‘July 4, 1974’ by June Jordan explores the birth of her son, something Jordan believes you are never ‘really prepare[d]’ for. It focuses greatly on a sense of time and place, both within the literal world, but also on a greater scale of the stars. It is a poem about motherhood, and the scary process of becoming a parent.
Summary of July 4, 1974
‘July 4, 1974’ by June Jordan begins by focusing on the birth of Jordan’s son, ‘some/sixteen years ago’ in a hospital in ‘New York’. The current date when Jordan writes, 1974 is 16 years after the birth of her son in 1958. The first stanza is designated to these facts and statistics, those which comprise the newborn’s life. The poem then moves into Jordan’s preparedness for motherhood, with the poem becoming more abstract. The final two stanzas of the poem discuss the child as he grows, becoming his own distinct personality. The final word of the poem focuses on ‘light’, with motherhood being some Jordan prides herself on.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of July 4, 1974
Jordan’s ‘July 4, 1974’ is split into 6 stanzas of unequal lengths. The line lengths range from 8 to 1, the poem following a free verse form. There is no rhyme scheme, with June not following a constrained structure. The structure becomes looser as it progresses, moving from a very bulky 8 line beginning and finishing on a one-line stanza. This changing stanza could reflect several aspects of the poem. One interpretation of the changing structure could be reflecting Jordan’s changing expectations of motherhood, not totally sure what to expect and therefore demonstrating her adaptability through the loose form. The structure of ‘July 4, 1974’ could also be understood as reflecting the content, with the first stanza being more structurally solid, while holding several facts about the child, while the following stanzas are about emotions, and therefore less structurally compact.
Analysis of July 4, 1974
Title and Epigraph
Considering this is a poem about the birth of Jordan’s child, it can be assumed that the title is a reference to the birth date of her son.
The epigraph, designating the poem as being written from ‘Washington, D.C.’, instantly places the poem in the context of location. The poem discusses in-depth notions of time and place, with these two initial elements, title, and epigraph, reflecting the content of the poem to a great extent.
The poem can be seen as a form of journal entry, the date of writing, ‘July 4, 1974′ being coupled with the location in which Jordan composes the poem, ‘Washington D.C.’
At least it helps me to think about my son
For most people, the 4th of July bears connotations of the American Independence celebration. Yet, for Jordan, the 4th becomes all about the birth of her son, this historic date being surpassed by the birth of her child. In doing this, Jordan is placing the love for her son before any form of patriotism, placing family firmly above national pride. The 4th becomes a day all about her son, his birthday changing the meaning of that date in her mind.
Within the first line, the syntax is manipulated to ensure that ‘son’ is placed as the final word of the sentence. By placing ‘son’ at this position, Jordan emphasizes the importance of her son, the metrical stress of the line falling upon the word.
Within the first stanza, there is a reference to time within ’sixteen years ago’, as well as the detailing of place ‘St. John’s hospital next to the Long Island/Railroad Tracks’. Yet, Jordan takes this further by instilling a sense of astral location within her son’s birth, the classification of ‘Leo’ also presenting his birth on a cosmic scale. Time and place, both on a macro and micro scale, are incredibly important within the poem. This perhaps is insinuating the importance of this moment of birth, her son coming in to the world, and things changing for the poet.
Stanza two is a single line stanza, being separated from the rest of the poem. In doing this, Jordan draws emphasis to the line. The focus on ‘dawn’ has connotations of a new beginning, the promise, and the opportunity that a new day represents being connected to the birth of her son. Jordan is suggesting that his life will be full of opportunity, much like a new day rising ‘at dawn’.
Stanza Three and Four
These stanzas focus on the idea that Jordan, as a parent, was ‘not really prepare[d]’ for the monumental task of parenthood. Facts and figures may represent what it is like to be a parent, but this is nothing compared to the actuality.
The grammatical isolation of ‘for him’ echoes the idea of the son’s importance. His birth becomes a central focus of Jordan’s life, the two-word stanza furthering this idea by emphasizing ‘son’ both through the individual stanza form and also by having only two words within the stanza.
Stanza Five and Six
The fifth stanza focuses on the personality of the son, ‘angry’ and ‘serious’ being something that Jordan did not expect. The one-word lines that Jordan employs suggest that these attributes make up a large part of the boy’s personality, forming two-thirds of the descriptions Jordan writes.
The final two lines, first beginning with ‘and running through the darkness’, can be understood as a representation of society and her son’s place within it. Society, especially American society, still has an incredible racial bias, with the ‘darkness’ that the bot is ‘running through’ being a metaphorical representation of this prejudiced society. The fact that her son is ‘running’ suggests he is fighting against this notion, pushing forward through the world.
The final idea of the poem, focusing on the son’s ‘light’ suggests that he is a positive influence within society, he is the opposite of the ‘darkness’ that he is pushing through. Jordan then finishes the poem without an end stop, this lack of definitive end perhaps reflecting the idea that the son’s life has not yet finished, still moving through the world and bringing his ‘light’.