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Yusef Komunyakaa's "Pride"

Updated on October 6, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Yusef Komunyakaa

AKA: James William Brown, Jr.
AKA: James William Brown, Jr. | Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Pride"

Yusef Komunyakaa's "Pride" filters nonsense into an art form, as does most of this poetaster's pieces. Readers will be stunned that this noted "poet" has spewed his blather for decades and even taught young, potential writers the art of poppycock, at Indiana University and New York University.

This piece begins and ends with little more than a string of images that when looped together in any arrangement communicates nothing more than a filthy screed of bilge.

The image of "swallowing its own tail" should speak volumes about the notion of pride, but in the hands of this weak and slack-jawed wordsmith, it falls flat and lies there writhing in its own dust.


Crowned with a feathered helmet,
Not for disguise or courtship
Dance, he looks like something
Birthed by swallowing its tail,

Woven from a selfish design
& guesswork. As if masked
With a see-through caul
From breast to hipbone,

His cold breath silvers
Panes of his hilltop house
Into a double reflection.
Silhouetted almost into a woman,

He can beg forgiveness now
As he leans against a window
Overlooking Narcissus’s pond
Choked with a memory of lilies.

Reading of "Pride"

First Movement: "Crowned with a feathered helmet"

In the first movement of Komunyakaa's "Pride," the speaker describes a character who looks as if he gave birth to himself by "swallowing" his own "tail."

The character wears a helmet of feathers, but not for any legitimate or natural use such as "disguise" or "courtship," which would imply, because of the title of the poem, that the character is wearing the helmet in order to boast and regale himself.

Uncertainty renders these pretentious images unworkable in the quest to name the real character of pride.

Second Movement: "Woven from a selfish design"

The second movement actually continues describing the character's tail, which looks as if it were, "Woven from a selfish design / & guesswork." A "selfish design," no doubt, refers to the notion of pride again; selfishness and pride are usually linked in their odiousness.

But the speaker adds a little jab that the design also looks like "guesswork," making it appear less deserving of respect than the character would believe himself worthy.

The character also sports a "see-through caul / From breast to hipbone," whose description bleeds into the next movement.

Third Movement: "His cold breath silvers"

Again, description runs from the preceding movement, and now in the third movement, the reader learns that it is the character's breath that is seemingly masked by the caul, and the breath is so cold that it "silvers / Panes of his hilltop house / Into a double reflection."

The character makes mirrors of his windows in the house on the hilltop merely by breathing on them, and the mirrors offer "a double reflection."

Such mirrors would, of course, be useless, but at the same time understandable because of the nature of pride.

The last line of this movement, "Silhouetted almost into a woman," sounds impossible and meaningless, but the reader must wait to see if it offers any useful information; again the idea/image is bleeding into the next movement.

Fourth Movement: "He can beg forgiveness now"

What now is different that allows this character to "beg forgiveness," whereas he could not beg forgiveness before? According to the claim, it is because he is, "Silhouetted almost into a woman."

Does this imply the ludicrous notion that women can ask forgiveness but men cannot?

The character is leaning against a window that overlooks a pond like the one Narcissus looked into and fell in love with his own reflection, but the character is "choked with the memory of lilies."

It could be the pond that is "choked" with the lilies' memory, but that seems unlikely.

Perhaps the prideful character simply remembers lilies as flowers of purity; he is choked by their memory because he has become a boasting buffoon, a Narcissus whose character is the opposite of the humble flower.

"Hip Poetic Posturing"

This poem appears in Yusef Komunyakaa's book Talking Dirty to the Gods, among others that are equally as dismal and bland, yet ostentatious.

As critic Matthew Flamm said of Komunyakaa's poems in a review in the New York Times, "sometimes their obscurity seems no more than hip poetic posturing."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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