Claude McKay’s The Harlem Dancer is a publication that centers on a typical session of young sensual female dancer of Black origin. As the title suggests, the setting is within the early period of the Harlem era that was generally marked with such activities within nightspots. The most notable theme in the text concerns racial bigotry that the Black females within the era were accorded. Supporting premises used for the fortification of the main theme concern sex, youthfulness and immorality. The identity of the dancer is marred by the various subjective perspectives given to her by the audience. McKay however overcomes this factor to the audience by infusing an element of ambiguity within the text using paralleling styles of imagery within the poem. The poem’s opening introduces this aspect by placing contrasting states of purity marked by the cheering young males with the presence of the youthful harlots. Further imagery is used to describe the lustful aspect of the males as they watch the dancer while ambiguity is evidenced by the use of the term ‘her’ to reflect that the roles could befitted to any black female.
Additionally, the binary nature is brought out by the purity that the dancer exudes by her perfect nature and the depraved manner of dressing. A simile is used to praise the dancer’s voice as contrasting her against the unruly audience; the alliteration used in the fourth line being the ‘b’ sound hints that her voice is quite bold and therefore an imagery of her intrinsic and extrinsic qualities aiding her in according an elegant performance to the audience. Ambiguity is revisited with the mentioning of the ‘gauze’ that may either be used in reference to the revealing nature of her gown, or as the material used for wounds dressing, to reflect her bruised self-esteem and dignity. The subjective voice of the narrator is then used in this section to offer a different view to the reader concerning the dancer. The narrator uses the simile of a palm to justify and acquire a balanced perspective on the dancer. The storm, perhaps the lack of finances, could account for her odd behavior; being a substantial woman in such a filthy and immoral place.
McKay refrains from offering a precise explanation for the dancer’s behavior and this enhances the ambiguity element. A binary is created by the narrator’s ability to analyze the dancer’s strengths as opposed to the rest of the audience that choose to center on her sexuality. McKay choice of words is highly significant in the poem; the use of the term ‘curls’ evidences an image of a young girl and therefore reflective of innocence. A sharp distinction is infused by the use of discordant words like ‘wine-flushed’, ‘passionate gaze’ and ‘bold-eyed’ to signify the impure characters of the audience. The imagery in this proves of their wicked personalities and justifies their immoral perspective on the environment unlike the narrator. The readers however, bear the choice of according their own perspectives with regard to the events in the poem as appreciated by the ambiguity accorded.
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s What Lips My Lips Have Kissed on the other hand is a skilled writing with centered on the chief theme of regret. The initial supporting theme is based on the aspect of immorality that the narrator evidences within the introduction. The first person form of narration is employed within the poem unlike in McKay’s poem that majorly uses the third person perspective, the inclusion of the first person narration falling in the concluding part of the poem. A bitter tone is used as the narrator laments on the promiscuous lifestyle spent in the embrace and kisses of various lovers, so numerous that she cannot track the exact number. Millay’s word choice works towards amplifying the message and emotion in the writing. Similar to McKay’s work, the poem has a heavy reliance on imagery with the initial application based on the use of the terms ‘ghosts’ and ‘rain’. The former word evidences the haunting effect that the loose lifestyle has imparted within the narrator’s life, as amplified by the notion of forgetfulness. The unrelenting grip of the ordeal renders the narrator sleepless although it is during the night period and what she can only resort to sighs. The rain is an indication of the gloom that has encompassed the narrator’s life, and with the combination of the dark night, it indicates hopelessness. The loneliness embarking the narrator is amplified by her description of her residence that indicates a deep isolation that lacks company and therefore leaves the haunted woman towards a muted conversation with the rain. Her regret is further amplified by her current age that has seemingly affected her beauty to the point that no males are attracted to her. Consequently, she is aware of the fact that this will lead to lack of male visitations in the night. The age factor and her career in prostitution is a divergent factor between both poems, as McKay’s protagonist is both youthful and innocent in her work. However, a reconciling element within both poems is the fact that both protagonists are discontented with their practices.
Miller employs the style of onomatopoeia to describe the narrator’s sexual encounter with her male lovers as a ‘cry’, an indication of the sexual orgasms. The style enables the writer to address a sensitive area in the poem in an inoffensive manner. This style is supplemented with imagery once more; summer is indicative of the narrator’s youthful period where trees tend to blossom as a mirror image of sexual appeal and fertility. The narrator notes that during this period, the birds, an indication of her lovers, are parched on the branches yet with the creeping in of winter, each of the bird deserts the tree. The winter imagery is quite graphic with the snow denoting the graying of hair and due to the lack of basic needs trees in this period tend to wither as an imagery of her failing fertility and attractiveness and therefore the indication of a permanent inability to sing, as age cannot be recouped.