Any Human to Another

Countee Cullen

In Countee Cullen’s poem, ‘Any Human to Another,’ the speaker describes how essential human interaction is. He also reveals how one person suffering affects everyone.


Countee Cullen

Nationality: American

Countee Cullen was one of the most influential voices of the Harlem Renaissance.

Cullen was a poet, novelist, children's writer, and more.

This simple, yet profound expression of humanity’s interactions with one another allows the reader to understand the innate need for human companionship, especially in the midst of suffering. The suffering of one kind or another is a common human experience and something that unites us all. Every human being has experienced some form of suffering. Even the newborn baby has felt hunger pangs. Any Human to Another brings all of humanity together under the common experience of sorrow. Countee Cullen paints a picture of this unification of two persons through the common experience of pain.

Any Human to Another by Countee Cullen


Any Human to Another Analysis

Stanza 1

The ills I sorrow at
Not me alone
Like an arrow
Pierce to the marrow
Through the fat
And past the bone

This initial stanza of Any Human to Another implies the importance of what lies beneath human beings’ physical features. He suggests that sorrow is often what lies at the depths of the heart. He realizes that he is not alone in this feeling of suffering deep down. Pain, “like an arrow” pierces through the fat and bone, right through the marrow, into the heart. Sorrow is something that is felt beneath the outward, physical body. Emotional pain is often something that cannot be seen, and so it must be expressed through words. When one person expresses his sorrows to another, like an arrow, it pierces into the other person’s soul, allowing them to share in the pain and suffering of their fellow human being.


Stanza 2

Your grief and mine
Must intertwine
Like sea and river
Be fused and mingle
Diverse yet single
Forever and forever

With this stanza, the speaker offers comfort for those in grief. He reveals that his own grief and that of another human being “must intertwine” and that the knowledge of another sharing the burden of suffering is comfort in itself. He implies that one person’s suffering cannot be completely severed from another’s. Although they are “single” and “diverse” in nature and circumstance, they are still “intertwine[d]” as are the “sea and river”. The speaker implies that grief can unite one human to another. He also suggests that this connection through shared experience is infinite, that it lasts “forever and forever”.


Stanza 3

Let no man be so proud
And confident
To think it is allowed
A little tent
Pitched in a meadow
Of sun and shadow
All his own

The third stanza of Any Human to Another reveals the speaker’s belief that mankind ought to share in one another’s burdens. He considers it pride and insolence to stand aloof from other people, in one’s own little place. He believes that in order to fully enjoy life, it must be shared with others. He specifies that grief must be shared with humans in order for a full human experience to occur in one’s life. He implies that human beings are not meant to bear their own burdens and to live alone. This is why he claims that no man should “think [he] is allowed” to live apart from other human beings. He suggests in this stanza that men and women are not meant to live alone, but rather are meant to live with one another, to communicate with one another, and to share in one another’s sorrows.


Stanza 4

Joy may be shy, unique
Friendly to a few
Sorrow never scorned to speak
To any who
Were false or true

In this stanza, the speaker reveals that joy is found in a shared human experience that can only exist in the realm of human companionship. He reflects upon various human attributes. Some are “shy” and other “unique” and some are “friendly” and all have experienced sorrow, as sorrow has “never scorned to speak”. The speaker reveals that sorrow is a common human experience for everyone, whether they are “false or true”. This implies that both the good and the bad experience sorrow in life. He suggests that no matter what kind of life a person has led, whether an upright and honest life, or one full of deceit and falsehood, sorrow has touched us all. This is simply the nature of life, and it is the nature of human beings to be affected by another’s sorrow as it is the nature of human beings to desire another to share in their pain as well as in their joy.


Stanza 5

Your ever grief
Like a blade
Shining and unsheathed
Must strike me down
Of bitter aloes wreathed
My sorrow must be laid
On Your head like a crown

In this final stanza of Any Human to Another, the speaker reveals his willingness to share in another person’s grief. He implies that to share in another’s sorrow is an act of self-sacrifice, for he compares it to a “shining and unsheathed” blade which strikes him down. The speaker also reveals that just as he willingly takes on the burden of another person’s grief, so will he lay his burden down on the head of another, “like a crown”. The use of “crown” as a metaphor for the sorrows shared with another suggest that to share in another’s burden is an honorable thing to do. It suggests that it is noble of humankind to be able to carry one another’s burdens and share in each other’s sorrows.

Any Human to Another allows readers to feel the importance of sharing in one another’s joy and sorrow. However, the definite emphasis is placed on the sharing of grief and burdens, which reveals the author believes that sharing in one another’s grief and sorrow is an essential part of being human. For this reason, the poem is titled, “Any Human to Another”. The speaker is aware that this essential part of the human experience requires nothing more than two human beings and their willingness to communicate with one another and bear each other’s burdens.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.

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