E. Knight’s and Y. Komunyakaa’s Poems Comparison

Hard Rock Returns to Prison…”

In the poem “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” by Ethridge Knight, the male societies are presented in two settings: in prison and at war. “Hard Rock” is a symbol of slavery. He stands for Black men in general who are forced to carry the psychological scars of slavery. Knight writes, “The doctors had noted a hole in his head, cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity through the rest” (8-10). The doctors represent the community, those people who forgot about the horror of slavery. They ignore the sufferings of Black people. However, the memories of slavery cannot be simply cut out of the head. Black men remember their life in slavery; it is a scar on their souls. Slavery is “one long scar that cut across his temple and plowed through a thick canopy of kinky hair” (4-6).

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Scene of slavery

Knight creates a terrifying scene of slavery through the effective use of metaphors and numerous symbols. The image of “doctors” parallels the White people. The image of “Hard Rock back, handcuffed and chained” (10-11) is a direct reference to slavery. Notably, Knight mentions eyes three times throughout the poem: “yellow eyes” (4) and “empty eyes” (28) to describe Hard Rock and “our eyes on the ground” (33) a reference to the blindness of the White community. The poem is written from a personal perspective and the opinion of the author is easily traced. The tone is aggressive but there are some elements of grief.

Hard Rock is portrayed as a hero to his fellow inmates both before and after his return from the hospital. The poem opens with the lines “Hard Rock /was/ known not to take no shit from anybody, and he had the scars to prove it” (1-2). Hard Rock was respected by “a herd of sheep“ (13), his fellows. He “wasn’t a mean nigger” (7); he “that’s one crazy nigger” (26). Hard Rock was the “Destroyed, the doer of things we dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do” (34-35). Hard Rock was a hero without fears and with a strong will.

Tu Do Street”

The poem “Tu Do Street” by Yusef Komunyakaa is very different from Knight’s poem both in style and message. Komunyakaa places the speaker and action in Vietnam to draw a realistic picture of the Vietnam War and the life of the local population. The author suggests the differences in situations of Black and White soldiers are nonexistent. Special attention is devoted to the place of the Vietnamese women and the hierarchy of races. In particular, the line “bar girls fade like tropical birds” (8-9) is used to describe the local (Vietnamese women); “down the street black GLS hold to their turf (17-18) portrays the pitiful position of Black women in Vietnam. The social standing of Black women is worse because they are forced into prostitution as the only way to earn for living. At the same time, Black slave women and bar girls are in similar situations; they fear soldiers and there is no opportunity to escape.

The Vietnam War

The most effective image is created in the opening lines of the poem: “I close my eyes & can see men drawing lines in the dust. American pushes through the membrane of mist & smoke” (2-5). Komunyakaa portrays the Vietnam War as drawing lines in the dust. This quote includes a literary device metaphor: the drawing of lines is literal, but reflects the essence of the war (a division of power). In the middle of the poem, Komunyakaa describes “the mama-san behind the counter” who “acts as if she can’t understand” (10-12). This bar girl understands her situation very well but she has no choice in life.

Komunyakaa incorporates the image of “war” as a symbol of divides.

There is a direct reference to the Blacks in America. While society does not divide its citizens into Blacks and Whites, discrimination persists.

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Komunyakaa concludes the poem with the following lines: “There’s more than a nation inside us, as black & white soldiers touch the same lovers minutes apart, tasting each other’s breath” (27-31). Thus, despite divisions, all people are equal and have the same experiences.

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