History always helps in determining the present as well as the future. Mankind’s history reveals how the past generations worked hard to achieve what the present age is enjoying. Awareness of this process set in motion from the long past makes humans alert in making decisions. The poet, Amiri Baraka talks about the role of history in shaping the future of a nation. To be specific, ‘History as Process’ is about African-American history, also infamously known as “Black History.” Readers should not forget their contribution in freeing the blacks from bondage. They taught them the power lying deep inside each of them who once chose silence to be the best option for survival.
This poem is in fragments. It is not right to say that there is not any coherence of poetic thoughts. The interconnection between the ideas is there. Readers have to be aware of how the ideas are placed one after another to point at the message. Baraka conveys that the black community has faced several challenges in the past. Right now, after seeing the incidents happening with them, he thinks the hope for a better future is diminishing. Whatsoever, he does not lose hope at all. If the African-American leaders were true to their commitment, then there is nothing to worry about. He will remain optimistic, even if realism threatens his utopian thoughts.
You can read the full poem here.
‘History as Process’ does not have a specific structure or it is written in resemblance with a definite form. Baraka wrote it in free verse without being bogged down by the regulation of past conventions. Readers can come across this disruptive form from the very beginning. As they can see some lines only contain a single word, depicting a specific idea.
There is not any specific rhyme scheme or metrical composition in this poem. Baraka uses internal rhymings for maintaining the flow of each verse. Besides, there are both the iambic meter and trochaic meter. The poet fuses these meters for creating a conversational scheme.
‘History as Process’ contains some important literary devices. Those devices make the poet’s ideas more engaging to the readers. The first device can be found in the very first line. In this line, “the sons of all experience” is a metaphor. It is a reference to the blacks.
There is irony in the line, “there is some diminishing beauty we might one day understand.” Baraka uses alliteration to emphasize a particular sound, thus creating an internal rhythm. He also uses repetition for this purpose.
In the line, “The thing, There As Speed…” readers can find the use of simile. The second stanza begins with a rhetorical question. In the second line of this stanza, Baraka uses synecdoche. He makes use of hyperbole in the phrase, “all humanity.” In the last line, he alludes to the African-American leaders who fought for human rights and equality.
The evaluation of the mysteries by the sons of all
experience. All suffering, if we call the light a thing
understand, and scream to, in some wild fit of acknowledged
In ‘History as Process,’ Baraka tries to evaluate the mysteries in history. The sons of the black community have experienced all kinds of suffering. In the pages of history, readers can find their references. According to the poet, their contribution is comparable to the light that shows the path for the next generation. All men should know about them to evaluate their contribution.
By the lines, “Where ever, in the dark folds/ of the next second” the poetic persona refers to the critical situations in which the blacks are still stuck. In such tough times, beauty diminishes. And one day, when all of them understand that nothing permanent, they will be frustrated. Then they will scream to know the fact that the “wild fit of acknowledged Godliness” is nothing but a chimeric thought. Nothing has changed. Still the helpless gets oppressed.
Reality, is what it is. This suffering truth
It is reality. One should take it as it is. The suffering of the blacks gets advertised in the pages of history. According to the poet, readers have to understand the truth of their suffering. It is important to mention here that Baraka uses enjambment in this section to internally join the lines. This device is present throughout this piece.
At such hard times, keeping faith in oneself is a “mingling possibility.” Here, readers should note the usage of the words “Speed” and “force”. These terms are used to depict the dynamic nature of history.
In the following lines, Baraka points at the “freaky gypsies” who rolled through Europe on. It appears that he is referring to those who fought for the rights of the blacks. Their struggle is comparable to the hardship of the gypsies. The last line of this section ends with a mysterious term, “The Soul.” In the next section, the significance of this reference becomes clear.
What can I do to myself? Bones
makes the hero’s eyes close, and the tears that come out
The speaker asks a rhetorical question at the very beginning of the last section. He asks what he can do to himself. He is left with his age-worn bones and his dusty skin. His heavy eyes twisted between his thighs.
The usage of the phrase, “adequate thighs of all humanity” is a bit strange. This phrase signifies the adequacy of the human body. Whatsoever, the poet strums his head for a living. As his head is the workshop where his thoughts get fluxed into a beautiful poem. Thereafter, this mental manifestation of the verse is written on a copy.
No matter how optimistic he is, his head constantly reminds him of the fact that there are “no utopias.” However, he does not listen to his head. According to him, when the raw wind will make the hero’s eye close, and the person starts crying, he will believe that. Baraka’s “heroes” are none other than the African-Americans who fought against the oppression of their community.
‘History as Process’ appears in the December 1964 issue of the Poetry magazine. It was published along with his poem, ‘Like Rousseau’. Baraka was an American writer of poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and music criticism. His career spanned nearly 52 years and the themes of his poetry range from black liberation to white racism. While some of his poems draw on topics from society, music, and literature. In this poem, readers can find the themes of racism, black liberation, and history. On top of that, it explores history as a process of evaluation.
The following poems are similar to the major themes present in Amiri Baraka’s text.
- History by Carol Ann Duffy – It’s one of Duffy’s best-known poems. This poem compounds all the events in history into one woman. Explore more poetry of Carol Ann Duffy.
- Of History and Hope by Miller Williams – It’s one of the presidential inaugural poems. This poem speaks on the importance of American history.
- History by John Burnside – This poem is written in keeping the real events in mind and it speaks on what is important in life and history.
- Salt, Pepper, Vinegar, History by Ian McMillan – In this piece, the poet questions the nature of memories and history.