The poem is filled with wonderful examples of imagery as well as a wide variety of literary techniques. These make it very interesting to read and even provides the reader with a few surprises as the text progresses. ‘Catch the Fire’ is also a great example of how effective free verse poetry can be and the ways it allows a writer to experiment with how they might emphasize certain parts of their verse.
Explore Catch the Fire
‘Catch the Fire’ by Sonia Sanchez discusses the importance of catching one’s fire and using it to create a good and impactful life.
In the first lines of ‘Catch the Fire,’ the speaker begins by describing how important it is to look toward the future while being inspired by the past to catch one’s fire. It’s important to capture it and pass it on. The fire is that which fuels you to get up every day and to live an important and effective life. It can be passed from generation to generation, as described in the second stanza. As the poem progresses, the poet introduces allusions to historical figures, like W.E.B. DuBois and Fannie Lou Hamer, as inspiration and as examples of Black men and women who caught their fire and used it.
You can read the full poem here.
(Sometimes I wonder:
What to say to you now
Where is your fire?
You got to find it and pass it on.
In the first stanza of ‘Catch the Fire,’ the speaker begins with four lines within parenthesis. She expresses a feeling she sometimes has about “what to say to you now” when you “hold us all in a single death?” It’s clear the speaker has an issue with this. The following lines present the question “Where is your fire?” twice. She’s emphasizing it through the use of “I say—“ as well. She’s encouraging “you” to rethink life and find what drives you.
You got to find it and pass it on
the mother from the mother to the child.
She tells “you” that it’s important you find that fire, or whatever makes you get up in the morning and work hard throughout the day, and pass it on “from you to me from me to her from her” and so on. It goes from mother to daughter and mother to child. Here, she alludes to a history of purpose. Generationally, a “fire” or passion may be passed on from person to person. This is the way it should be.
Where is your fire? I say where is your fire?
Can’t you smell it coming out of our past?
to the world?
The fire of pyramids;
The fire that burned through the holes of
slaveships and made us breathe;
In stanza three, the speaker uses more questions as well as other rhetorical techniques. There is the “fire of living…not dying,” she says, and the “fire of loving…not killing.” There is the “beautiful fire that gave light / to the world,” and one must seek it out. IN that fire, there is lightness and beauty, as well as a purity of purpose that can make life better. If one draws inspiration from the past, specifically the past of Black Americans (seen through the reference to “Blackness” and the “slaveships” in the final line, then one can have a fire that burns deeply.
Stanzas Four and Five
The fire that made guts into chitterlings;
The fire that took rhythms and made jazz;
full of Nzingha and Nat Turner and Garvey
and DuBois and Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin
and Malcolm and Mandela.
Sister/Sistah Brother/Brotha Come/Come
The fourth stanza includes more allusions to Black culture and history. The speaker uses this two-line stanza to lead the reader into the fifth stanza. There, there are specific references to the Civil Rights movement and leaders like W.E.B. DuBois, an American sociologist, and historian and Nat Turner, the American preacher who led a four-day rebellion of enslaved and free Black men and women in the 1800s.
The poet also mentions Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer. These men and women are meant to fuel the fire in the reader’s heart and make them want to live impactful lives. There is an important change between the fifth and sixth stanza that is quite noticeable in the poet’s use of font and is audible when the poem is read out loud.
CATCH YOUR FIRE…DON’T KILL
HOLD YOUR FIRE…DON’T KILL
LEARN YOUR FIRE…DON’T KILL
BE THE FIRE…DON’T KILL
Catch the fire…and live.
The sixth stanza includes numerous words that are written with only capital letters. She repeats the title, “CATCH YOUR FIRE,” as well as reminding the reader to capture that light and not “KILL” or put it (or someone else’s) out. The poem ends with an address to all men and women, the brothers and sisters, reading the poem to whom the speaker has a connection to. She offers them her hand and encourages them to “live. / livelivelive.” With these lines, she concludes the poem, leaving readers with images of the past, present, and future. What kind of life, she’s asking, are you going to live? And how will you fuel your fire?
Structure and Form
‘Catch the Fire’ by Sonia Sanchez is a six-stanza poem that is written in free verse. This means that the poem does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are very different lengths, some only one word long, and the stanzas range in length from two lines up to twenty-two lines. Sanchez’s choice to write in free verse gives the poem the passion and possibility that it needs to succeed. She had the freedom to use dashes, capital letters, and enjambment to make the poem as effective as possible.
Throughout ‘Catch the Fire,’ the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the writer repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Blackness” and “beautiful” in stanza three and “Brother/brotha” and “Sister/sista” in stanza five.
- Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats the same word, idea, literary device, or structural element more than once. In this case, the poet repetitively returns to the idea of a “fire” that one can catch and foster.
- Allusion: occurs when the writer references something but doesn’t fully define it. It requires extra knowledge to understand the allusion. For example, the names the poet mentions in the second half of the piece.
The purpose is to inspire readers to find their fire, “catch it,” and keep and fuel it. The speaker took inspiration from specific historical figures and the passion that fueled their lives. They encourage the reader to do the same.
The tone is passionate, encouraging, and determined. The speaker addresses the reader directly, using second-person pronouns like “you” and third-person pronouns like “our.” These bring the reader into the poem and ensure that they’re moved by the text.
The speaker is someone who is inspired by the Civil Activists she mentions in the text as well as someone who wants to inspire others. The speaker is encouraging and passionate about her subject.
The poem is about how important it is to find one’s “fire” or passion and to let that passion fuel one to live a good life. The speaker references Civil Rights leaders and activists whose fire helped fuel their continual fight for equal rights.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Catch the Fire’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘A Woman Speaks’ by Audre Lorde – is both a warrior’s song for the invisible and a conversation between women of different cultures.
- ‘Lineage’ by Margaret Walker – describes the strength of a speaker’s enslaved female ancestors and how they suffered for that strength.
- ‘won’t you celebrate with me’ by Lucille Clifton – addresses racism and inherent gender inequality. The speaker has overcome every hurdle and modeled herself in her own image.