Born on 15 September 1889 in Jamaica to peasant farmers, Claude McKay was educated by his brother, older in age, who possessed a library of novels, scientific texts, and poetry all written in English. The brother, Uriah Theophilus had a neighbor Walter Jekyll who observed the passion of Claude McKay had when mimicking English poets and encourage him to start writing verses in Jamaican dialect. Having trained as army personnel in Kansas for the Kingston Police department, Claude McKay had the exposure and opportunity to make trips to different part of the world hence different moods in the context of his poems. The aim of this essay is to make the comparison between the Flower of Love and Jasmines poems written under the Harlem of Shadows collection during the Harlem Renaissance period. In doing the comparison, the poem will making an analysis of the context or setting that influenced the message in the poems, and the classification of the poems and how the title of the poems relate to what the speaker in the sonnet is trying to communicate. Further, I will look into who the speakers in the poems are, and the stylistic devices used for communication.
The Context of the Poems
The sonnets Flower of Love and Jasmines were written in the same period under the McKays Harlem of Shadows poem collections. The Harlem of Shadows period entailed the phase where McKay returns to America and expresses the adventures and experiences he got from his trips to London, and the Soviet Union. Moreover, in this same period McKay marries his childhood sweetheart and leaves religion because the Christians segregated the black people, hence considered religion as hypocritical.
McKay chose the sonnets collection to be referred to as the Harlem of Shadows because he wrote them during the Harlem Renaissance period, between 1919 to 1933. Originally referred to as the New Negro Movement, the period marked a phase where there was a redefinition of the African-American artistic expression. It also marked a period of remarkable quality and quantity literary output that influenced and encouraged McKay to write the sonnet collection.
The Classification and the Title of the Poems
First published in 1921 in the Liberator newspaper, Jasmines falls under both the nostalgia and love poems classification. It classifies as a nostalgia poem because jasmines refers to plants of the olive family that can only thrive in a sub-tropical or tropical climate and not bloom in a cold place (Line 1 of the second stanza in the Poem). This means that the speaker in the poem has a nostalgic memory of a possible lover from the Jamaican lover as he notes that the smile of the Jasmine vanishes and suddenly fades away. Moreover, can be illustrated as a love song as the speaker notes that her scent is in the room and the perfume she has overwhelms and conquers him.
On the other hand, published in 1922, the Flower of Love is a love poem aimed at explaining the beauty of another individual. The speaker metaphorically expresses the feeling he has to a female character, a lover possibly, using the metaphor of flower. The temptation that he gets from this person is clearly illustrated when he uses the petals of the flower to show the temptation that the lover has on him. Furthermore, the speaker, in the first two lines of the poem wants to communicate that he adores her smell more than any other thing. The use of weed in the second line of the sonnet, directly means tobacco, and interprets to mean that her sweet body scent makes him drunk or feel like he is high on drugs. This shows the obsession he has to the lover and the effect she has on him.
Title of the Poem
In the Jasmines poem, the title has a hidden meaning as it can mean two things. Firstly, it means a beautiful, intelligent, wise and fun girl who everyone wants to be with due to her breathtaking beauty and her traits as a loving and honest person. Secondly, it refers to an Old World climbing plant or a shrub that has fragrant flowers used in tea or perfumery. It is not until one reads the poem that the relation of the title in the poem is clearly understood. The type of Jasmine that the speaker predominantly refers to in the poem is that of the second meaning, a plant with fragrant flowers. However, in Line 3 of the first verse, where there is the use of two Jasmine, Jasmine, night jasmine, it can be interpreted that the first Jasmine means a girl while the second refers to the plant. The title is relevant as it shows what is going to be predominantly referred to in the body of the poem although it communicates an ambiguous meaning.
On the other hand, the Flower of Love title from the onset communicates that the poem is going to be a love poem. Although used in a metaphorical phrase, it is construed to mean someone who is dear to another person, possibly a female lover as in the physical world men tend to use sweet words to refer to the women they hold dear, that is their girlfriends or wives. Therefore, the title of the poem is relevant as it construes the meaning of the poem and anticipates the love message that is communicated by the speaker in the sonnet.
The Speaker or Persona in Each Poem
From the title of the Flower of Love to the message communicated in the body of the poem, the speaker of the poem is a lover, who longs for his female lover as he notes that in a moment rare and tense/ I worship at your breast. This means that the speaker is a male lover communicating to his female counterpart who he has deep erotic feelings for as he also loves her scent, which makes him feel drunk (the use of weed in the first verse).
On the other hand, due to the theme and meaning of the title Jasmines in the sonnet Jasmines, there are two types of speaker. The first type of speaker is a male lover who is nostalgic of the female lover he left behind. The rationale for classification of this type of speaker is that the speaker in this poem insists that the Jasmine only blooms in tropical or subtropical climate such as that of at Jamaica, but looking at the context or setting of the poem, the speaker was in America where this type of was just but a dream. The second type of speaker can be said to be an environmentalist or an environmental lover. From the second meaning of Jasmine, a plant with fragrant smell, it is quite evident that the speaker gives lots of praise to the plant such as its good smell and how it whizzes slowly avoiding making noise during a windy night. (Line 1 to 3of the third stanza: Too stormy is the night for your fond face/ For your low voice too loud/ the winds mad roar). This shows that the speaker is passionate about the plant thus can be an environmental lover or an environmentalist. However, for the purpose of the interpretation of the stylistic devices in this poem I will use the speaker in the first context.
Metaphors are used to make a hidden, implied or implicit comparison between two objects or things that most often are far apart from each other but have the same characteristics. Both Jasmines and the Flower of Love are similar in that there is use of metaphors in the sonnets.
In Jasmines, the metaphoric meaning communicated by the speaker is a lover who is far away from him and whose scent, as he nostalgically recalls, conquers and overwhelms him (Line 2 of the first verse). Further, the speaker uses the Jasmine in the plant-meaning context to symbolize and express the good and admirable traits he loves in his lover, who unfortunately is far away since she cannot bloom in cold weather (Line 1 and 2 of the second stanza). The speaker implores, from the plant-meaning context that the lover is sad as she smiles temporarily and becomes sad from the distance between them. In the first verse uses the phrases vestige of a tear and sad suffering face in the first verse to communicate the sadness of the lover in another country (possibly in Jamaica). The phrase For your low voice too loud/ the winds mad roar is used metaphorically to illustrate the calm nature of the lover, a trait the speaker adores in his lover.
The word flower in Flower of love is used figuratively and metaphorically to mean something that the speaker loves and adores because f the sweet fragrance that she has. It is common for most flowers to have sweet attracting smell and this is what the persona in this poem says as he illustrates that the sweet smell attracts him and he want to always be with her and worship he breast. The phrase I want nor wine nor weed illustrates that the flowerily scent and the breath alone of the lover makes him feel drunk or high on tobacco or marijuana. Weed following the context and background of the poet means marijuana or tobacco, which are common drugs in Jamaica. The speaker says Your Sanctuary unseen meaning that the lover is a descent woman who covers her body fully and begs her to receive his love confession in the next line (Receive my offering, yielding unto me). This shows how the persona in the poem is attracted to the woman and further illustrates his intentions to spend the night with her (Oh, with our love the night is warm and deep).
The use of metaphors in these two poems communicates the deep feelings that the speaker in the sonnet has to his lover. The use of metaphors as a symbolic instrument illustrates the intensity of the erotic love the speaker has for the female lovers in both poems. This figure of speech make the poem interesting to read and interpret as the reader is given the autonomy for interpretation.
The rhyme scheme in the Jasmines poem is irregular and has a pentameter. The irregular rhyme scheme creates an environment of curiosity brought by the last words in the poem. It also illustrates the nostalgic mood that is communicated in the poem.
The Flower of Love sonnet has a regular rhyme scheme in that every two lines in the poem the sound in the word ending the lines rhyme. The rhyme formed is abab cdcd efef ghgh. The use of regular rhyming words forming a uniform rhyme scheme in this poem brings the musicality of the poem, and showing the erotic love that the speaker intends to communicate to the lover.
In each stanza in the Jasmines poem, there is alliteration that helps communicate the message in a musical way. there is the alliteration of the letter j in the line Jasmine, night jasmine in the first paragraph. In the second stanza, the letter w is alliterated in the line without the street is wet. Further, in verse three, the alliteration is of the letter f in for your fond face.
Similarly, the sonnet Flower of Love has alliteration and although not divided in stanzas, the stylistic device is quite evident. The alliteration of w in want nor wine nor weed, s in Soft-scentedSouth and b in burning brain to sleep brings a sing-song aspect in the sonnet hence the musicality of the poem.
The words flower and jasmine have been used in their respective poems to emphasize on the strong love feeling, mostly of erotic nature, that the speaker had for his lover.
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