Poem explication assignment | American Lit. | Georgia State University

Category: English

-Poem Explication Assignment (Due July 11 at midnight on turnitin.com)  

-Major Paper Two  Summer 2019  

-Helene Johnson’s “Bottled” (see attached)      

-Length Requirement: Two to three pages. You should use as much of this space as possible, but try not to exceed three pages. All papers should be stapled, double-spaced, and in Times New Roman or Garamond 12 pt. font.    -Description of Assignment: You should consider the poem open to many different interpretations, of which you will choose one. Please predicate—that is, base—your perspective on the text itself, and quote the text at least five times. Do not use, however, quotes of more than 15 words; in general, you should explain your analysis rather than simply cite relevant parts of the poem.    

-You may and are encouraged to incorporate items from in-class lectures and discussions. Think of this information as “footnotes” to the poem. We can guess certain meanings on those historical facts and use them to strengthen our interpretations.    

-That said, you should not do any additional research on the poem or poet in question. The poem itself and your class notes are all you should consult when writing this explication.    

-Aside from answering the all-important question, “What does this mean?” you should look at how the genre goes about producing this meaning (diction, repetition, music/rhythm/rhyme, moral/message, and humor/playfulness). Also, you must address the audience (to whom or for whom is this written?) and the purpose (why was this written?).    

-As before, you will be graded on the four criteria below.  • Strength of Interpretation  • Analysis of Evidence  • Clarity of Expression  • Grammar, Mechanics, and Spelling  *Of these, the strength of your interpretation is the most important.            

Bottled      

Upstairs on the third floor    

Of the 135th Street Library    

In Harlem, I saw a little    

Bottle of sand, brown sand    

Just like the kids make pies    

Out of down at the beach.    

But the label said: “This    

Sand was taken from the Sahara desert.”    

Imagine that! The Sahara desert!    

Some bozo’s been all the way to Africa to get some sand.        

And yesterday on Seventh Avenue    

I saw a darky dressed fit to kill    

In yellow gloves and swallow-tail coat    

And swirling a cane. And everyone    

Was laughing at him. Me too,    

At first, till I saw his face    

When he stopped to hear a    

Organ grinder grind out some jazz.    

Boy! You should a seen that darky’s face!    

It just shone. Gee, he was happy!    

And he began to dance. No    

Charleston or Black Bottom for him.    

No sir. He danced just as dignified    

And slow. No, not slow either.    

Dignified and proud! You couldn’t    

Call it slow, not with all the    

Cuttin’ up he did. You would a died to see him.    

The crowd kept yellin’ but he didn’t hear,    

Just kept on dancin’ and twirlin’ that cane    

And yellin’ out loud every once in a while.        

I know the crowd thought he was coo-coo.    

But say, I was where I could see his face,    

And somehow, I could see him dancin’ in a jungle,    

A real honest-to-goodness jungle, and he wouldn’t have on them    

Trick clothes — those yaller shoes and yaller gloves    

And swallow-tail coat. He wouldn’t have on nothing.    

And he wouldn’t be carrying no cane.    

He’d be carrying a spear with a sharp fine point    

Like bayonets we had “over there.”    

And the end of it would be dipped in some kind of    Hoo-doo poison. And he’d be dancin’ black and naked and gleaming.    

And he’d have rings in his ears and on his nose    

And bracelets and necklaces of elephants’ teeth.    

Gee, I bet he’d be beautiful then all right.    

No one would laugh at him then, I bet.        

Say! That man that took that sand from the Sahara desert    

And put it in a little bottle on a shelf in the library,    

That’s what they done to this shine, ain’t it? Bottled him.        

Those trick shoes, trick coat, trick cane, trick everything — all bottle–    

But inside —    

Gee, that poor shine!        

-Helene Johnson (taken from This Waiting for Love, ed. Verner D. Mitchell. Amherst: 2000, pp. 36-7.)

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