I found many of the Cullen poems difficult to understand. As we mentioned in class, he has a very traditional style, and includes words and references you really have to stop and think about. I thought this was very much the case with “Heritage.” Although I know it is something about what Africa means to him, or maybe what he thinks it was like in the past, I understand very little of what he is describing, with the exception of the last section dealing with his feelings on God.
It seems clear that Cullen is describing the plight of African Americans and wondering why the God he prays to lets these things happen, or at the least, doesn’t really seem to care.
Wishing he I served were black
Thinking then he would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it,…
Not surprisingly, many of Cullen other poems seem like a variation on this theme, including “Mood,” “Pagan Prayer” and “colors”, which deal specifically with his anger or confusion, as to why the God does not intervene in his black followers time of need. Similarly, in “The Litany of the Dark People” Cullen seems to be referring to African religions with the same questions when he describes the racism and violence back people face, comparable to being crucified.
Yet no assaults the old gods make
Upon our agony
I wish I could come up with some profound understanding or literary reference to sum up my point. Truthfully however, I rarely read anything outside of non fiction and, as I’m an atheist, I don’t have any religious background to draw from. Still, I think it’s pretty obvious writing was therapeutic for Cullen. No doubt he was explaining his own frustrations and searching for a way to understand why black people were simingly being forced to endure so much. In this way, although I admittedly understand very little of what Cullen specifically wrote, I find his poems to be asking the universal ‘why are we here?’ question.