2 Countee Cullen May 30, 1903–January 9, 1946 Birth place unknown Abandoned by parents and raised by his grandmotherGrandmother died when he was 15 and was adopted by a minister at a Harlem churchWent to high school in the Bronx and Queens receiving special honors in LatinGraduated from NYU in 1925Wife divorced him, saying he admitted to liking menDied from kidney failureConsidered one of the greatest writers of the Harlem Renaissance
3 "Simon the Cyrenian Speaks" He never spoke a word to me, And yet He called my name; He never gave a sign to me, And yet I knew and came. At first I said, "I will not bear His cross upon my back; He only seeks to place it there Because my skin is black."
4 But He was dying for a dream, And He was very meek, And in His eyes there shone a gleam Men journey far to seek. It was Himself my pity bought; I did for Christ alone What all of Rome could not have wrought With bruise of lash or stone.
5 Simon the Cyrenian Simon in Hebrew means “Listening” Was the man selected from the crowd to help Jesus carry his cross to the hill as mentioned in Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21
6 Speaker “He never gave a sign to me, And yet I knew and came.” Black guy speaking“… my skin is black.”Does not seem to be religious until this one time in the poem“He never spoke a word to me, And yet He called my name; He never gave a sign to me, And yet I knew and came.”Seems to be some kind of prophet“He never gave a sign to me, And yet I knew and came.”
7 AttitudeBitter“He only seeks to place it there Because my skin is black.”Doesn’t necessarily show who he’s bitter at: God for giving him black skin or white people as the stereotype would suggestEmpathy“It was Himself my pity bought; I did for Christ alone”Proud“I did for Christ alone What all of Rome could not have wrought With bruise of lash or stone.”
8 Organization Four stanzas a-b-a-b rhyme scheme (Ballad meter) Iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter
9 Stanzas# 1Speaker is being called to something although he does not have a clue as to why# 2Initially refused to come out and help, saying he was only chosen from the crowd because of his skin colorSimon of Cyrene was also African although his skin color is unknown, which suggests that this statement is what Cullen believes Simon may have said assuming he was black like most other Africans
10 Stanzas cont’d# 3Speaker starts to realize that there’s something different about Jesus“And in His eyes there shone a gleam Men journey far to seek.”# 4He finally helped because it had a greater effect than anything Rome could’ve done and he realized thisTime suggests that it’s some period after the event, although a date is not established.
11 ImageryCross – even in today’s world we “all have our cross to bear” as the cliché goesGleam in Jesus’ eye – if someone has a gleam in their eye there’s something special about them that the person just recognized. In Jesus’ case the speaker couldn’t identify it but he saw somethingRome – dominating force in the society of the time. This could refer to both the Romans or oppressors of the 1920’s.
12 Diction and SyntaxThere isn’t much special diction as short poems with only 6-8 syllables a line can’t fit very many fancy wordsClosest thing to a “fancy” word is “wrought” in the last stanzaStanzas are used to convey different emotions1: confusion2: anger3: hope4: pride
13 ConclusionThis story can be used as a comparison between the first years AD to the 1920’s in which Cullen lived. Although it is certainly a poem about the real Simon of Cyrene, it was also widely known that Simon was not black even though he was from Africa. He uses the race issue to grab his black audience’s attention. Even in the northern states in the USA in the 1920’s, black people were still oppressed and were suffering under “separate but equal” clause since Plessy vs. Ferguson in It’s unclear whether Cullen is trying to turn people to religion, which would be entirely possible given his living circumstances, or trying to tell people to just bear segregation and do what they can until the grand ending where bold acts will eventually take down virtual tyranny. This poem was radical in either way as the imagery was, and, to some extent, still is, generally interpreted as whites being the oppressive Romans in which blacks have to break free propelling Countee Cullen into the Harlem Renaissance Hall of Fame.