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2. Read the following poem by the Jamaican-born writer Claude McKay carefully.

Then write an essay in which you discuss the ways in which the author’s style
(Diction, imagery, selection of detail) reveals his feeling about what he recalls and
cannot remember about his youth.

In “Flame-Heart,” Claude McKay writes of the flashes of nature he remembers


from childhood, his colorful diction, images of natures and selected memories revealing
his attitude toward his forgotten past. However, this past is not completely forgotten; it is
not the images of his childhood which he forgets, but rather the time at which these
occurrences appeared that causes him to resent his failing memory. Nonetheless, the
descriptive work leaves the reader in a lush memory surrounded by the natural beauty of
the outdoors.
Throughout the poem, McKay uses whimsical diction to create a Technicolor
explosion of imagery and emotion. Like Alice wandering through the enchanted garden,
McKay remembers the “purple apples com[ing] to juice,” as well as the “shy forget-me-
nots,” adding a bit of innocence and nostalgia to the tone. He can see in his mind’s eye,
the “honey-fever grass” on the “ping-wing path,” but still he does not remember when all
of these instances occurred, only that they were there for him to witness. If only he could
remember the time of season, his memory would be complete, his mind laid to rest, but
still the raging war of imagery plagues his mind.
As McKay remembers his childhood, the details of the natural world that once
surrounded him transport him back to his days of harvesting and frolicking and chasing
after the radiant sunlight. In his memories, time stands still, yet all the glory of nature is
anything but dull; rather, the gardens and creatures of his childhood are preserved in
perpetual bloom, each revealing itself to recollection with a flourish of saturated colors,
almost surreally. as McKay recalls these images of “languid painted ladies dapple[ing],”
and stopping the “mad bees in the rabbit pen,” the world of daydreams engulfs him,
wrapping him in the cozy, yet elegant, sheets of nostalgia and reminiscence. These
images he once took for granted as an uncultured child come back, rich and beautiful, yet
hopelessly missing from his now typical days of adulthood. n addition, one of the most
striking images of the poem, McKay recalls the “poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm
December.” Through a child’s eyes, there flowers stand, bright, but no more than red
blossoms; now, under an adult’s serene gaze, the “flame-hearts” scream, crimson and
glaring, their image skewed by the years of maturing, thoughts of violence marring the
previously standard color. And yet, McKay’s use of imagery does not go unbothered by
his selective memory.
From McKay’s memories spring glorious paintings of whimsical nostalgia, but
his failing memory cannot place a calendar or clock face, harvest moon or weakening
sunbeam, amongst the images of pure beauty. Without the markers of time, these images
dance in McKay’s mind, taunting him, teasing him, reminding him of the ephemeral
innocence of childhood. “What weeks, what months, what time of mild year?” he asks,
forever trapped in the golden afternoon of nostalgia, tormented by the unknown
timeframe, an ant imprisoned in amber watching time fly by ever more. Though he has
“embalmed the days,” only the sights are kept, not the sense of time that would complete
the memory. All this passage of time makes McKay yearn for “the sacred moments when
[he] played, all innocent of passion, uncorrupt,” undaunted by the end of childhood,
carefree and capricious. Gone are the days when these thoughts of whimsy, natural
beauty and the gentle ambience of childhood lingered in the air, lulling McKay into
happy slumber, restful and quaint in the lazy Sundays of enchanted gardens.