Use of Imagery and Figurative Language in “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa
Use of Imagery and Figurative Language in “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa In his poem, “Facing It”, Yusef Komunyakaa describes his ambivalent emotions towards the Vietnam War of which he was a veteran. Reflecting on his experiences, Yusef expresses his conflicting feelings about the Vietnam War and his feelings about how racism has played a part in America’s history. By using visual imagery and metaphoric language throughout the poem, Yusef is able to reflect the sad and confused emotions he felt while visiting the Vietnam memorial.
Yusef begins the poem by using visual imagery to describe his face reflecting in the memorial wall. He uses the specific words “black face fades” to tell us a few things (line 1). One thing it tells us is that the speaker is African American. But the other, more important, thing it tells us is that he understands that, as his face faces into the dark granite, he wasn’t the only person affected by the war. The poet also has some anger and ambivalence about surviving the war. His emotions are seemingly hard for him to bottle up as we see from more visual imagery “Dammit: Not tears” (line 4).
He then uses some metaphors to help describe his struggle to compose himself. The metaphors “I’m stone. I’m flesh”, show how the speaker is split on how he feels (line 5). The speaker says he is stone, almost as if the he is talking to himself and coaxing himself along not to cry. But, then admits he is flesh by stating that he is human. He is vulnerable to feelings of sadness. Then, by using more visual imagery and some personification of the stone memorial wall, the speaker describes how he is a prisoner to the wall and that his only escape from it is to turn away from it.
Yusef writes, “I turn/this way-the stone lets me go. /I turn that way-I’m inside” (lines 8-10). No matter which way he turns, his reflection is unavoidable. This could also be used as a metaphor for the speaker’s life. It doesn’t matter which direction he tries to go in life, the memories and effects of the war are always unavoidably with him. The speaker is also able to show how he is not the only one so deeply affected by the war. He writes of a white veteran who approaches him while at the wall.
With his effort to point out that it was a white veteran shows us that the speaker understands that the war didn’t just effect himself or African Americans, but all that were involved. He then uses some visual imagery to help us envision this white veteran and how he looked at the speaker by saying “his pale eyes/look through mine” (lines 26-27). Then, with the metaphor “I’m a window”, he expresses how, since being at the memorial wall, his self-perception has now lessened even more (line 27).
Now he is neither stone nor flesh, but now a window through which this white veteran looks at the wall. He doesn’t even see the speaker, but obviously has his own harsh experiences of the war as he looks through the speaker at the wall. With this visual imagery and metaphoric language the speaker helps us understand how he feels about the war and the affects it’s had on him and all others that were involved. In the middle of the poem, the speaker arrives at the number of casualties from the war.
When he reads this number he can’t believe that he is still alive. As he reads down the names he uses the visual imagery and simile to describe how he expected to find his own name in “letters like smoke” (line 16). This helps the reader understand how lucky the speaker felt about somehow escaping the war still alive. As he goes down the list of names he comes across one in particular, Andrew Johnson, that has important meaning for several reasons. As soon as he touches the name the speaker sees “the booby trap’s white flash” (line 18).
There is a very personal connection to this Andrew Johnson as he is from the same hometown of Yusef (Poetry Foundation). But, more importantly, this person also shares his name with the 17th president of The United States Andrew Johnson. From history we learn that this president succeeded Lincoln. He is also the president that denied free slaves equal rights when he vetoed the Civil Rights Bill (Poetry Foundation). This bill literally took 100 years to be passed, and when it was passed in 1964 the Vietnam War was just getting started (Poetry Foundation).
This name mentioned in the poem was so significant because it gives us a sense of visual and emotional imagery. By Yusef putting this in the poem it shows how ironic he must have felt fighting alongside white soldiers and dying next to them even though they didn’t share all of the same civil rights just yet. This part of the poem, and the beginning “My black face” gives us visual imagery to help describe how the speaker felt about having to fight in a war for some other country when he didn’t yet feel as an equal in his own.
Yusef is able to describe his feelings and emotions toward the Vietnam War and towards the African American’s role in America by using visual imagery throughout the poem with some metaphoric language. In the end, the speaker also shows his ambivalent feelings that seem to start to evolve for the better when the visual imagery is used as he sees a woman who is “trying to erase names:/No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair” (lines 30-31).
The speaker sees the motherly tenderness and finally begins to understand, after all that he’s been through this day, the complexity of his human emotions. Works Cited: Komunyakaa, Yusef. “Facing It. ” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Sixth Edition. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. California: Longman, 2009. “Yusef Komunyakaa. ” Poetryfoundation. org. Facing it by Yusef Komunyakaa, 2011. Web. 17 April 2011.
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