“Miniver Cheevy,” by E.A. Robinson, “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes
“Miniver Cheevy,” by E.A. Robinson, “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes, and “In a Station of the Metro,” by Ezra Pound, are poems that have characteristics which are similar, while still having other characteristics which differ. The theme of the poems are similar –; they are about despondent people –, but they differ in plot, structure and writing style. The poets use specific techniques to interact with the reader’s emotions. Each poet also incorporates a confusing element that catches the reader by surprise.
All three poems contain individuals who are unhappy with their situation in life. Miniver, in “Miniver Cheevy” longs for the olden days, the days of knights, romance, and valor. He desperately wishes he could live in a different time period. He realizes he can’t change the life he has been given; he accepts his fate and drinks away his sorrows. Langstone Hughes explains to us in “Harlem,” the agony of a dream deferred. Hughes talks to us about the numerous ways a deferred dream can haunt us. Does your dream dry up, and lose its meaning? does it fester and harm you if you don’t accomplish it? or does it stink because you waited too long? Ezra Pound in his poem, “In a Station of the Metro,” Ezra expresses his irritation with society’s antisocial behavior. People in the station of the metro all move around carelessly, avoiding the people around them; avoiding possible relationships and connections that could benefit them in the future. Instead they mechanically; robotically wander to their destination without a care for those around them. Both “Miniver Cheevy,” and “Harlem” talk about dreams that won’t come to fruition, or empty dreams just like the empty people in the station of the metro. The people are void of dreams and ambitions, they are stagnant, moving around aimlessly without a goal; robots monotonously doing their task, only surviving instead of thriving.
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In these three poems the authors all write about people who are void of dreams, but the poems differ in their plot and how they are structured. In “Miniver Cheevy’s” plot, Robinson writes about a person whose dream is to live in the medieval period. The plot in “Harlem” Hughes explains to us the agony of deferred dreams, specifically the deferred dreams of African Americans in New York in the 1920s. Pound’s plot in the poem “In a Station of the Metro” he speaks of the lack of interaction among the people in the station of the Metro in Paris, France. Not only are these poems different in their plot they are also different in the way they are structured. The poem “Miniver Cheevy,” is a narrative poem. Robinson is telling a story of a person who dreams of living in the early middle ages. In “Harlem” Langstone Hughes uses a lyrical style of writing. The poet arouses strong emotions that evoke the reader to understand the impact made by a postponed dream. Another distinguishing point of a lyrical poem is its personal involvement with the author. It is obvious that the author was personally affected by a dream deferred; an African American who lived in Harlem during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.
“In the Station of the Metro,” the poet uses the imaginist style of writing. The imaginist style of writing uses clear images along with sharp, clear wording to convey the authors point. The imagery that Pound uses causes the reader to contemplate the contrast between the petals on a wet, black, bough to the faces you see when you are in the subway station. When you contemplate the comparison, you can comprehend the totality of Ezra’s poem without the use of numerous words or multiple images. The rhythm is also different. In Pound’s poem; the rhythm from the first line to the second line differs, the first line doesn’t have irregular or pronounced rhythm, but then the author separates the two lines with a semi-colon, this stops the phrase to place emphasis on the comparison. Then in the next line he uses rhythm by having the readers pronounce their consonants; Petals on a wet, black, bough (line 2). By doing this he makes the readers think about the words they are saying. The rhythm sticks in your brain like a catchy tune, so you remember and apply Ezra’s principle. The author wants you to listen instead of hear, he wants you to apply what you have heard instead of hearing and not doing. James 1:23-24 says “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Ezra Pound causes us to look within ourselves and ask ourselves, “are we so focused on the task at hand that we lose sight of the relationships around us?”.
These three poets use similar; yet different techniques to arouse the emotions of the audience. Instead of simply stating how much Miniver loves Medieval times he gives us specific examples, so we can envision being in the medieval period ourselves. This makes the reader long for those ancient days with Miniver. He uses words like swords bright and steeds prancing (Line 6) to give as a picture of what it was like back then. In “Harlem,” Robinson uses a variety of similes which compare something physical to something metaphysical. He uses things like a ‘raisin in the sun’ something you can see with your eyes and your hands can touch to something you can feel in your heart but can never touch. He does this, so we can have a better understanding of what he is trying to communicate to us. Pound personifies petals on a bough to the ghostly faces he sees in the station of the metro. The black bough symbolizes the metro station it is stationary it can’t be moved. The metro station is like the bough, the tree is always there it can’t be moved, it never changes. The only thing that changes on the tree is the petals themselves, they flutter down on the wet tree each one falling at a different time and moving in a different direction. The petals are like the people at a metro station entering and exiting the station moving in different directions. This is such a well thought of image because we can imagine the comparison of the aimless people and the falling petals, and the wet, dark bough to the cold, lifeless station.
Some of the techniques that the authors use contain confusing elements which are very surprising. At the end of “Miniver Cheevy” the narrator states; “Miniver Cheevy born to late, scratched his head and kept on thinking; Miniver coughed, and called it fate and kept on drinking.” This statement surprises me because Miniver doesn’t try to change his circumstances. He doesn’t try to keep a positive outlook on life and set another dream which he can strive to pursue, instead he gives up on life and drinks away his sorrows. In “Harlem” Hughes uses descriptive words which make the audience cringe. Hughes states “does it fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat?” (line 3-5) this is very surprising because you don’t expect the author to give such vivid examples like a festering sore. These images are surprising because they are grotesque; normally poets will give you images of things that are peaceful and calming like ocean waves or falling snow but not something revolting. Ezra Pound uses one word that sets the whole poem up and without this word it would be very hard to understand his poem. This word is apparition, the dictionary defines apparition as a ghost or ghostlike image of a person. He uses this word to describe the people’s faces in the metro station. This is surprising because you normally don’t describe a person as ghostly especially a large amount of people who are all in the same vicinity.
The authors use these confusing elements to impact the reader to remember what each author expresses. In “Miniver Cheevy” Miniver washes away his sorrows with alcohol. The author wants Miniver to drink himself away this is the reason why he is called Miniver Cheevey which sounds just like mini achiever. The poet wants people to realize that there are those Miniver’s in the world which start as mini achievers and end as mini achievers but then there are those who start as mini achievers and end their life as an achiever of much. You can be either an achiever or not; it’s every man’s choice to decide for themselves. The choice is to either wallow in your sorrow or to take the plot you were given in life and to use it to achieve much. Langstone Hughes uses words like fester or rotten to give the audience a vivid picture which sticks in their mind so that you can compare those “cringing” words to the feeling you get when you have a dream deferred. Ezra uses the word apparition to emphasize their lifelessness; they are empty, no expressions, each moving along their own path. This is probably the best word to describe the people at the metro station. Ezra’s articulation and profound choice of words communicates to the reader exactly what he is saying in just a few words.
The poems, “Miniver Cheevy”, “Harlem”, and “In a Station of the Metro” are all similar in that they’re about despondent people. The character, Miniver Cheevy longs for a life he can’t have because of being in the wrong time period. Langstone Hughes’ poem, he, himself is disheartened by the life he can’t have because of being in the wrong race. Ezra Pound’s poem the he portrays people who are disengaged because of having the wrong mindset. The author of each poem all portray their characters as empty and hopeless, but they differ in plot, structure and writing style. Some of these qualities interact with the audience’s emotions and may seem confusing, but when you look a little closer you can see that these confusing elements made the message of each poem memorable.
- Robinson, Edwin, Arlington “Miniver Cheevy”1910, London, Publisher is Macmillian
- Hughes, James, Mercer Langstone “Harlem” 1951,
- Pound, Ezra, Weston Loomis, “In a Station of the Metro” 1913 Ezra Pound
- The Bible, James 1:23-24 New International Version