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Shvoong Home>Books>Poetry>A Poem for the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy Review

A Poem for the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

Book Review   by:Deda     Original Author: Nikki Giovanni
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Nikki Giovanni's isone of the most widely read and and honored living black poets of alltimes. Her poems reflect the many stages of her life and ideology andat the same time live and breathe asa reminder that words are meant to last: verba volant, scripta manent(wordsfly, writing stays); thus everything she says she etches on stone. Suchis her strength. The powersource of her poetries is not only her keen sense of observation butalso hergreat humanity. Giovanni does not only talk and dedicate her poems tofamouspeople who made history, but also to the little people she observesin theirsmall gestures, in their everyday lives, depicting them with greathumanity. The Poem dedicated to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy usesthe metaphor of atree cut down before the fruit is ripe and a promise fulfilled, as itsfulcrum. It is a strong metaphor that shows how,sometimes, the same thing could happen to promising people: theyare simply cut down and once they are gone nothing can come from themanymore. When this happens thedamages are not only caused to the tree, that falls, but also to thosewhowould have contemplated its beauty and enjoyed being in its shade. Samegoes for the person, whose absence stirs the souls and lives ofthe people who were looking up to him. Althoughthe title is a concrete dedication to Robert F. Kennedy and his assassination,his name is never quoted nor cited in this poem, but his existence is mentionedin analogy to the one of a young, prosperous, tree. The whole piece is ametaphor used to express a feeling of losscaused by the greedy gesture of someone who did not consider the consequencesof his selfish act. It is a poem about loss, more than that, it is a poem aboutsubtraction – almost emotional theft: something loved has been snatched awayfrom a community. Aspreviously cited the use of the lexicon and the rhythm of the poetryare suchto make us understand that something abrupt happened before a promisecouldhave been fulfilled. Over and over the use of words such as Neveris proposed inalternation with Nots and Yets. These are terms used for blocking,there willnot be room for negotiation, what is not there is not there: no Maybes,no Probably, no Perhaps. The tree has been taken away and there is noway toknow if it might have bloomed or produced fruits. What is not therecannot beforeseen, if something has no present it will not have a future: it’s atotalloss. Thereis no point, now, in wondering what might have been, since the tree has beencut down when “the fruit… / is yet to be borne [...] (and not even) the promise… / is fulfilled - says Giovanni in one passage of her poetry.
Thatis when certain symbolisms start to step in, the first one being The coolingshade, symbol of protection and guardianship. Giovanni moves forwardinto describing the person that ignorant of need has ignored everybodyelse’s feeling to cut down the tree they so loved. He didn’t do it in a politeway, nor was he democratically asking permission, because he is indifferent toecology and selfishly put on “boots… [and] / step forth damaging…”(319). He did not tip toe, he put on the heaviest kind of footwear to stomp onpeople’s feelings and beliefs and crush everything noisily; nothing else can beheard. Onceagain, the poetess, goes back to consider the feelings of those who loved thetree, and this will reconnect us to the beginning of the poem. All of thesymbols introduced in the first stanza, the shade, the fruit and the promise,are now the echo of the emptiness that is left. Thosewho loved the tree grieve the loss of something that was pure and beautiful.Something that was full of promises and whose shade was refreshing andshielding. The tree will not bearfruits anymore, the protection no longer exists, because those boots havestomped on everybody’s hopes and have crushed them along with the gorgeousplant. Whenthe figure of the tree is compared to Kennedy and his life, stupor and angerseem to transpire through the language used.The brokenverses are like sobs, the father figure in whose shadeeverybody felt protected is now gone, in the second stanza all the wordssurround the word “who”, as if all the people who loved the tree/Kennedy wererallying up against the culprit to say: he was not yours to begin with, you had noright to choose for us all. Theloss of a person who could have changed things, but had no time to bear a fruitand fulfill his promises, the loss of his protection is greater than it mightappear: the person is gone and that is sad, but those who remain willundoubtedly suffer the consequences. Notthe tree, not the person who is gone will suffer from the act but thosewho are left to suffer for its/his absence: the posterity who isleft with no legacy.
Published: January 26, 2007   
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