‘From the Dark Tower‘ was published in 1927 in Cullen’s second poetry collection, titled Copper Sun. ‘From the Dark Tower‘ explores the difficult subject of racism, specifically how Black people are deprived of what’s rightfully theirs. It’s clear that Cullen was channeling a Black speaker for this poem, perhaps drawing from his own experiences.
Explore From the Dark Tower
From the Dark Tower by Countee Cullen is a powerful piece of writing about the future of Black men, women, and children.
In the first lines of ‘From the Dark Tower,’ the speaker begins by saying that “we,” Black men and women, aren’t always going to be the ones doing all the hard work that others profit from. This suggests that now, that is the case. White people take the profit of the work that the speaker’s community engages in. They won’t always “countenance” or tolerate being treated as though they’re inferior. The speaker says that “we” won’t always have to submit to those who mistreat them or spend time thinking only about their suffering. The latter isn’t going to last forever.
In the second half of the sonnet, the speaker uses a metaphor to depict the Black community. He describes the sky as black and how just because it’s dark doesn’t mean it’s any less beautiful or remarkable. Darkness has its pros, just as lightness does. There are some plants that can’t live in the bright light of day. They instead bloom at night.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of racism and oppression. The piece takes the reader into the mind of a Black speaker who is defining what the world is like now for his community and how it’s going to change in the future. They aren’t always going to be treated the way they are. Eventually, things are going to change, and they won’t suffer. “Not always” is repeated several times throughout the poem, further emphasizing how change is coming. He has an optimistic outlook that is embodied through his nature metaphor.
Structure and Form
‘From the Dark Tower’ by Countee Cullen is a fourteen-line Petrarchan sonnet. This means the first half of the poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA. The second half, which in a Petrarchan sonnet can take several forms, rhymes CCDDEE. This is one of the more common patterns. Another element of Petrarchan sonnets readers should be aware of is the use of a turn or volta. It occurs between the first and second half.
Like most Petrarchan sonnets, this one is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line of the poem mostly consists of five sets of two beats. The first of which is unstressed, and the second of which is stressed. But it’s not always perfect.
- Metaphor: in the second half of the poem, the poet compares the Black community to the night sky and the flowers that flourish in the dark. It is a comparison created without using “like” or “as.”
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particular effective descriptions that appeal to the reader’s senses. For example, “White stars is no less lovely being dark.”
- Caesura: seen through the use of a pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.” It can be created through the use of meter or the use of punctuation.
We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting fruit,
Not always countenance, abject and mute,
That lesser men should hold their brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
Shall we beguile their limbs with mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made to eternally weep.
In the first lines of ‘From the Dark Tower,’ Cullen begins by noting that in the future, things are going to be different from what they are today. He uses “we” throughout the poem, referring to the Black community. They are not always going to be taken advantage of and misused by those around them. The work they do is not always going to be reaped by someone else.
He continues to put forward these better possibilities and presents a determined and optimistic tone. He uses a metaphor in lines six and seven to depict Black men and women relieving those around them of their burdens as if playing a “mellow flute.”
The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.
There is a turn between the first and second stanza or between the octave and sestet. The poet transitions into more lyrical verse. He describes the night sky and the stars, which are no less beautiful because it’s dark outside. The dark, a symbol for Blackness, should be appreciated. Emphasizing this, he adds that there are some situations in which darkness is necessary, such as for certain flowers to bloom that can’t in the bright light.
The final two lines describe how until these things happen, they have to “wait” and “tend our agonizing seeds.” The potential with the Black community is there. It’s ready to grow and bud but has to wait until the world is ready. Until then, the seeds are tended.
It describes the future of Black men and women and how much better it’s going to be than the past and present.
The major theme in ‘From the Dark Tower’ is racism.
It is a representative of how the Harlem Renaissance celebrated Black voices and Black art and culture.
‘From the Dark Tower’ was published in 1927 in Copper Sun.
Readers who enjoyed ‘From the Dark Tower’ should also consider reading some other Countee Cullen poems. For example:
- ‘Any Human to Another’ – describes how essential human interaction is. He also reveals how one person suffering affects everyone.
- ‘Hey, Black Child’ – a moving and memorable poem that is dedicated to all the black children who have been taught that their lives can’t amount to anything.
Another poem of interest might be:
- ‘Let America Be America Again’ by Langston Hughes – is concerned with the modern United States. Hughes discusses the nature of dreams and who gets to have them come true.