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Senegalese author, novelist, and statesman Senegal portrays New York as a base of financial influence and prosperity in his poem "Poem of New York." However, he wishes to convey the idea that life has lost its true meaning, and that people have become engrossed in a system of pursuing success rather than leading a happy, prosperous, and satisfying life. The poet forewarns New Yorkers of the shallow life they lead. As a result, he advocates for a more 'Africanized' New York, where people are happy, more united, and live a healthier lifestyle. “It was high time for manna and hyssop,” writes Leopold. In line 17, the word manna represents the happiness of the heavens. In a bid to uncover the real meaning of the poem, this essay focuses on the message of restoration, unity and happiness, and also the imagery used by Leopold Senghor is critically elaborated.
In the beginning, Senghor is perplexed by the beauty of New York City. The character in the poem is puzzled by superficial beauty of New York City. For instance he states in line 1, “New York! At first I was bewildered by your beauty. Those huge, long legged golden girl.” Leopold Sedar further States, “So shy at first, before your blue metallic eyes and icy smile, so shy (3).” “The blue metallic eyes” can be described in numerous connotations. It is used to describe inertness of the eyes. Also, one can interpret this phrase as a representation of frigidity of the eyes. Senghor uses the words “icy smile” as a description of a smile from the consumer society. Also, the phrase “lifting up the bowl eyes in the sun's eclipse” (Senghor 5) represents the warmth of life that is not expressed by New Yorkers. To further elaborate this point the poet states that that the sidewalks of Manhattan look bald when compared to the grassy areas of nature (Senghor 11).
To begin with, the message that Leopold seeks to put forward is the sense of renewing New York and bringing the African way of living to New York. He elaborates that there is need to make New York more pure and unified by the old ways of Africa. He uses poetry to put forward his message on the need to wash away the old being ‘rust’ and ‘tainted way; and restore unity that once existed. Senghor states in Line 54: “Let it wash the rust from your steel joints.” Since rusting metal falls apart easily, he recommends New Yorkers to embrace the African way of life to ensure stability. In the same line, he states; “like an oil of life.” This section brings the poem into perspective. According to science, when oil is applied to rusting metal, it lubricates the rust and lowers friction to prevent the metal from disintegrating. Usually, bridges are symmetrical and stark looking. The proceeding line (55) states: “Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines.” This statement simply means that giving bridges curves may make it more natural and flexible; and therefore it can easily bend. Covering in vine makes the environment more natural. Lastly, he criticizes the way of life and he writes, “The nights in Manhattan are characterized by insomnia.”
Secondly, the message intended by Leopold Sedar Senghor is the concept of Negritude. Negritude can be described as the association of black identity in a rather natural and African spirit. Therefore, the key pillar to negritude is race as defined by the physical uniqueness and other inner traits. From the poem, he explicitly explains that Africans share certain innate characteristics and aesthetics (Rukhaya 16). To elaborate this, he writes that people of Harlem should “Listen to the far beating of your nocturnal heart, rhythm and blood of the drum and let the black blood flow into your blood (53).” In this case, the poet uses nocturnal as imagery to describe night. Leopold asserts that one’s (blackness) is inevitable and natural. Leopold seeks to express African essence as an externalized in a rather distinctive culture and philosophy (Rukhaya 24).
To conclude, the poem simply elaborates how the African society is and how it can be incorporated to life in New York. The society in most African countries is old fashioned in a way. There is bits of advanced technology but not compared to New York. Therefore Leopold advocates for a restoration of the world to its former glory, where people were happy, stable and unified; as stated in line 56: “Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored.”
Rukhaya, MK. Poetry Analysis: Leopold Sedar Senghor’s “New York.” African Liteature, Poetry. 2014. Internet Resource.
Senghor, Leopold S. To New York. New York1969. Internet Resource.
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