Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday's Poetry: "The Whipping"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Robert Hayden grew up poor in inner-city Detroit in a less than ideal foster care situation.   Suffering from very poor eyesight, he didn’t play sports but instead pursued academics – eventually becoming a poet of some renown.  Hayden, who studied under W.H. Auden, was appointed to the post of poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1976, a position which later morphed into “Poet Laureate of the United States.” 

Hayden died in 1980.  He would have been 100-years-old yesterday.

A good portion of Robert Hayden’s work deals with growing up in a section of Detroit called Paradise Valley.  He chronicled a few historical figures in his poetry including Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X.  He also had things to say about the war in Vietnam.  It was, however, the anger and abuse directed toward him as a child that helped to form some of his most powerful poetic efforts.  The following poem, The Whipping, captures a lot of the anger and rage that undoubtedly had a profound impact on Robert Hayden during his formative years.

The Whipping
by Robert Hayden

The old woman across the way
is whipping the boy again
and shouting to the neighborhood
her goodness and his wrongs.

Wildly he crashes through the elephant ears,
pleads in dusty zinnias,
while she in spite of crippling fat
pursues and corners him.

She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling
boy till the stick breaks
in her hand.  His tears are rainy weather
to woundlike memories:

My head gripped in a bony vise
of knees, the writhing struggle
to wrench free, the blows, the fear
worse than blows that hateful

Words could bring, the face that I
no longer knew or loved . . .
Well, it is over now, it is over,
and the boy sobs in his room,

And the woman leans muttering against
a tree, exhausted, purged - 
avenged in part for lifelong hidings
she has had to bear.

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