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Cia Soto

9 October 2016
Sound & Sense Ch8: Allusion

● Allusion - a reference to something in history or previous literature

● “Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit”
● “If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair.”
● “What awful brain compels His awful hand”

“Yet Do I Marvel” - Countee Cullen

Theme: Partaking in poor actions and choices reaps tantalizing consequences.

Analysis: For every action there is a consequence. Countee Cullen illustrates that
principle through allusions in Greek mythology of two incidents of poor choices and the
less than pleasant aftermath of those choices. In this poem “Yet Do I Marvel”, Cullen sets
the intro with faith and trusting in God and His judgement. Followed closely, Cullen
demands to “Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit,” to
begin demonstrating Tantalus’ example. In referring to Tantalus’s story, a man born a son
of Zeus, the poet mentions his eternal punishment to forever starve and dehydrate in
waist-high waters and with a ripe, fruitful tree just overhead -yet each permanently just
out of reach. But it was not a punishment without reason, as Tantalus had continuously
deceived, betrayed, and disrespected the gods to the point of trying to serve the gods the
human flesh of his own son, Zeus’ grandson. In successfully tricking one of the gods into
consuming part of Tantalus’ son’s shoulder, Zeus was disgusted in Tantalus and for his
despicable actions condemned him to the underworld to be punished by Hades for his
horrible decisions. This same pattern was alluded to again in Cullen’s poem by Sisyphus’
actions and eternal punishment. Sisyphus had lied to and deceived the Queen of the Dead,
Persephone, to cheat death and continue living his life to escape a deal he made with
Hades. Upon him telling his wife to not bury his corpse, Sisyphus complained to
Persephone “that he had not been accorded the proper funeral honors” and that he should
be sent back to fix his poor funeral. However, upon lying and disregarding his promise so
he could just return to life and not have to go the the underworld with Hades quickly
caught up with him where he was punished to forever push a boulder to the summit of a
mountain only to watch it roll back down everytime to no avail. For the recalling of
Tantalus’ betrayal and Sisyphus’ deceit Cullen utilizes their examples to express the
consequences of choosing to partake in poor actions and decisions.