Throughout ‘Remember‘, Harjo uses repetition, specifically of the word “remember,” to remind the reader of their role on the earth. They are tied to all living things and are an integral part of the earth itself. The language in this poem is simple, allowing it to be read and enjoyed by a wide variety of readers.
In the first lines, ‘Remember,’ the poet asks the listener to remember their history and how it connects to the universe. They are a part of the birth of the universe, the sun, and the moon. They should remember the role their parents played in giving them life and how they gave their father and mother life as well.
She moves on to discuss how interconnected all people are to one another and the other lives around them. Animals and plants all have their families and histories. They should be respected and listened to.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo is a twenty-six-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem makes use of different types of repetition, including anaphora.
Harjo wrote this poem in free verse, meaning that it does not contain a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, and due to the use of repetition throughout the piece, it still feels unified.
Throughout ‘Remember,’ Harjo uses several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines four and five as well as twelve and thirteen. There are many other examples in the final lines of the poem.
- Personification: seen when the poet imbues human characteristics on non-human things. For example, when the speaker refers to the moon as “she” and describes the sun’s “birth.”
- Metaphor: occurs when the poet makes a comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as.” For example, in line eleven, when the speaker says, “Remember the earth whose skin you are.”
- Alliteration: seen through the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “star’s stories” in line two.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
In the first lines of ‘Remember,’ the speaker begins with the first iteration of a statement beginning with “Remember.” She asks the reader to take the time to remember the “star’s stories” and the sky under which “you were born.” This is an allusion to one’s heritage, and the broader connection one has to the universe. There is more to one’s story than that which one has personally experienced. There is the “moon” and “who she is” as well as “the sun’s birth at dawn.” These important transitions and connections are part of one’s life and should be remembered.
Harjo sets up juxtapositions with birth and death as well as morning and light in the next lines. She brings in “your mother” and “your father” and the life the listener was given from both of these people. They are evidence of “your” life as much as “you are evidence of” one’s mother’s and father’s lives.
Throughout these lines, Harjo uses examples of anaphora. That is the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of lines. “Remember” is the most obvious example.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
More statements starting with “Remember” follow in the next lines. The speaker is further emphasizing the connections between the listener (who is a clear representative of all human beings) and the earth. “You,” she states, are the earth’s skin and are the earth itself, no matter what color one might be. Moving the poem beyond human life, the speaker asks the reader to remember animals as well. She’s creating a feeling of unity that’s hard to miss. Humanity is connected to its history, the earth it walks on, and the other living beings it exists alongside. They all have their “histories, too.”
She directs the reader to “Talk to them” and “listen to them.” They are “alive poems.” This beautiful metaphor suggests that the earth has a great deal to offer if one is just willing to take the time and listen to it. It speaks its own poetry, written without a human hand to guide it.
There is another example of personification in this piece when the speaker refers to the wind as “her” and describes “her voice.” That voice contains the origins of the universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
The final section of the poem contains five more “remember” statements. Each one of these is enjambed. This allows the reader to move quickly through the lines and makes sure that despite the repetition that they maintain a conversational quality. She asks the listener to remember how connected they are to all people and “all people” to them. As a unified force, humanity should embrace the past, present, and future, setting aside differences. The poem ends on an optimistic note, asking the reader to “Remember the dance language is, that life is. / Remember.” In the end, life is beautiful and like a “dance.” Meaning, it’s meant to be done with others and with joy.
‘Remember’ is about the connection between human beings, the earth, and all the other living things on its surface.
It’s unknown who the speaker is. It could be the poet.
It was published by Strawberry Press in 1981.
‘Remember’ was written in 1981.
Readers who enjoyed reading ‘Remember’ should also consider reading some other Joy Harjo poems. For example:
- ‘My House is the Red Earth’ – explores the center of the world and how it differs for various people.
- ‘Once the World Was Perfect’ – explores the loss, and regaining, of the perfect state of the world. It begins by focusing on the perfect nature of the earth and how it’s falling apart due to greed and other human weaknesses.
- ‘Perhaps the World Ends Here’ – uses the central image of a ‘kitchen table’ to connect all areas of life. Childhood, love, loss, war, adulthood, memory are all bound to events that take place at the table.