Anne Spencer writes of love, friendship, self-actualization, and the injustices of oppression that block it. Some of her poetry is directly inspired by personal relationships, but much forms a controlled, metaphorical, and seldom overtly angry statement of the value of those who have been oppressed (Johnston). Spencer never wrote a book of poems, and her poems were published in the anthologies of African Americans (Johnston).
Many of Spencer’s poems employ biblical and mythical themes in combinations with images of her beloved garden; others address the oppression of women (Green 640). Beauty in the midst of death and decay and desire for immorality are another theme that runs throughout her work (Green 640). “Despite this strong statement of racial identity, Spencer went on to say that she reacted ‘to life more as a human being than as a Negro being,’ and she usually avoided writing the kind of protest poetry popular during the Harlem Renaissance,” says Dean.
But she deals with the difficulties faced by the black community in the poem “White Things”. White Things Most things are colorful things-the sky, earth, and sea. Black men are most men; but the white are free! White things are rare things; so rare, so rare They stole from out a silvered world-somewhere. Finding earth-plains fair plains, save greenly grassed, They strewed white feathers of cowardice, as they passed; The golden stars with lances fine The hills all red and darkened pine, They blanched with their wand of power; And turned the blood in a ruby rose To a poor white poppy-flower.
They pyred a race of black, black men, And burned them to ashes white; then, Laughing, a young one claimed a skull. For the skull of a black is white, not dull, But a glistening awful thing; Made, it seems, for this ghoul to swing In the face of God with all his might, And swear by the hell that sired him: “Man-maker, make white! ” “White Things” tells about the how there is a population of white and black men. The white men are free and have pillaged the land from the natives. With their many numbers they fought and killed, turning the “hills all red” (Green 643).
The white men steadily take boats to the native African lands to pry the blacks from their homes and make them slaves. If the black men rebelled against their masters they were beaten or lynched, and burned. Some of the black men were never seen or heard from again, just their white skeletons remain to tell the tale of an “awful thing” (Green 643). “White Things” was written due to the 1918 lynching of a black pregnant black woman, whose child was ripped from her womb and stomped by a white man, while the black woman’s body was burned with gasoline (Johnston).
In “White Things” Spencer expresses a similar sympathy for African American men as well as women, whose power she represents as having been blanched (Johnston). The entire poem, Spencer is saying that the whiteness is a destructive force, which is powerful metaphor. Spencer brings her poem to life uses other figurative language in “White Things”. For example, the usages of end rhyme. The first seven lines in “White Things” have end rhyme to give the poem more emphasis and more strength. White Things” creates a forceful statement; it approaches iambic pentameter and is entirely in couplets except for the last three lines of each of its two stanzas, the penultimate line of which, as the only unrhymed line, creates a break in intensity before the closure of the final rhyme and startling image: In the first stanza, power blanches a rose’s blood into a white poppy-flower; in the second stanza, a black’s skull is swung by a white ghoul (Johnston). Spencer also uses an allusion with the reference to “God” in line fifteen. Although Anne Spencer uses imagery in her poems, this poem oes not directly speak for me, but to for ancestors. My relatives and the black community had to deal with watching a loved one get lynched or prosecuted once upon a time. White Things still is relevant today for the fact that there are still racial slurs and discrimination dealing with the black community today. Works Cited Dean, Sharon G. “Anne Spencer. ” Gale Cengage Learning. Ed. Peter Quartermain, 1987. Web. 13 Sept. 2009.. Disheroon-Green, Suzanne. Voices of the American South. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005. Johnston, Sara A. “Poetry Criticism. ” Gale. American Women Writers, 2000. Web. 12 Sept. 2009..