New York is the commercial capital of America. Therefore it stands an emblem of financial stability and exponential growth. The poet Leopold Sedar Senghor exclaims that at first the beauty of New York held him spell-bound as it was superficial. It was limited to physicality of the “great long-legged golden girls.” The poet appears to be timid at the first sight of the City of Skyscrapers. Firstly, owing to his inferiority complex as the city held him in awe. Secondly, he could not confront the “blue metallic eyes”.

The adjective “metallic” has various connotations here. The term may refer to the lifelessness of the eyes. It may also allude to the nerve of steel. Furthermore, it points to the frigidity of the eyes. The phrase”frosty smile” appears to be a simile from a consumer society. The poet refers to the depth of the skyscrapers, when he should be talking about the height of the same. The line “lifting up owl eyes in the sun’s eclipse” reveals how the warmth of life is denied to them. The adjective “sulphurous” indicates pollution.

The skyscrapers seem to defy ‘cyclones’ as if challenging the very notion of God. The stone of the skyscrapers has weathered well against the climatic conditions. The sidewalks of Manhattan seem bald as compared to the grassy areas of nature. There are wells and pastures. All the birds seem to limit themselves to terraces. Nothing is deemed innocent here in this pretentious sophistication, pseudo-modern existence. No child’s laughter is to be heard, no mother suckling her baby. Only “legs in nylon” and “breasts with no sweat and smell.” In a consumer society, mouths are lipless due to lack of genuine expression and communication; what ultimately matters is profit and gain. Hard cash buys even love as people confine themselves to mercantilism.

No books are to be found that impart wisdom, as people are reluctant to part with wisdom too. The poet goes out to criticize European art asserting that the painter’s palette is filled with crystals of coral. The nights in Manhattan are characterized by insomnia. People give in to their impulsive needs. The term ‘hygienic loves’ refer to contraceptives, as they floated in the dark waters. The sanctity of love is treated as sewage.

The poet warns the superficial world to pay attention to the heeding of God-“signs and reckonings.” In Apoc., ii, 17, manna symbolizes the happiness of heaven. It is with hyssop that the blood of a bird offered in sacrifice is to be sprinkled for the cleansing of a man or a house affected with leprosy (Lev. 14: 4-7, 49-51).Senghor states that it was high time for manna and hyssop, the time for heavenly purity to descend on earth. The poet entreats with them to listen to the heart beating to the rhythm of one’s own blood, thereby making a distinction between the self and the conscious. The poet sees Harlem humming with sounds, solemn color and flamboyant smells. The three sensory perceptions are subject to artificial stimulations. This is the only interval to the man delivering pharmaceutical products. The pseudo-artificial products come into focus. The night holds more truth as compared to the day. The true colour of all things come to the fore .It is the purest form that sets life germinating before memory. All the amphibious elements-those pertaining to water and land are shining the suns.

Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, which since the 1920s has been a major African-American residential, cultural, and business center. The term “Harlem” refers to the Amalgamation of African-American life as it was expressed, and as it stood for. Therefore the “corn springing from the pavements” represent the marriage of Africa and America, of nature and sophistication It stands for the assimilation of the ‘white rum” and “black milk.”The masks adorned are “fabulous masks” as one cannot tell apart the African from the American.”

I have seen the sky at evening snowing cotton flowers and
wings of seraphin and wizards plumes
Listen, New York listen to your brazen male voice your
vibrate oboe voice, the muted anguish of your tears
falling in great clots of blood
Listen to the far beating of your nocturnal heart,, rhythm
And blood of the drum, drum and blood and drum.

This drum stands for the spiritual pulse of African traditional life as echoed in Gabriel Okara’s “Mystic Drum.” The alternation of the words “drum” and “blood” reflect a pulse-like rhythm that emphasizes the same.

Senghor claims that unity is to be discovered in the reconciliation of the Lion, the Bull and the Tree; the wild, the domestic and the vegetative world. Eventually he comes to comprehend that there is no significant meaning to this sort of life. The end becomes the means. The meaning of the journey no longer holds significance in a fast-forward life. In fact, they do not have possess a heritage at all; therefore, there is no need “to invent the mermaids”. America is always questioned regarding a history of its own, its roots and tradition. Senghor asserts that there is no need to indulge in a culture of myth that they do not possess in the first place. The life prevalent there is based on the formula of success, in an era of competition. Life has lost its true purpose and rusted in the ‘steel articulations”. The steel articulations refer to the Industrial Revolution. Besides, it may also allude to the steel nerve of the colonizers. It connotes their rigid stance and policies. The poet wants the black blood to act as a lubricant and life-force in such a situation.

New York! I say New York, let the
black blood flow into your blood Cleaning the rust from your steel articulations, like an oil of life.

It is also said to be the “oil of life”. Blood is red in colour, and is therefore universal. Here the poet renders this blood unique by attributing it with the adjective “black”. But again, it acts as the “oil of life”;or sustains life that is a universal phenomenon.

© Rukhaya MK 2010

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