An Agony. As Now

An Agony. As Now Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The first-person speaker of "An Agony. As Now." speaks in a tortured and accusatory tone as he relates his troubled psychological state to the reader. There are many hints throughout the poem that suggest that the speaker is experiencing some kind of psychological rift that separates his body from his soul. As a result, he feels stuck inside his body, which in turn alienates him from the physical world and causes suffering. The speaker's voice is also prophetic: though he was once "blind," now he can see the torture that he and others experience (line 16).

Form and Meter

Baraka uses an unconventional form along with uncommon punctuation in this poem. There is no specific meter.

Metaphors and Similes

Baraka uses an extended metaphor to compare flesh to metal: "Flesh, / white hot metal" (lines 41-2). Metal is foreign to an organic body, and it connotes industrialization and the machine age. Metal is always hard, cold, and lifeless, except when it is heated and becomes dangerously hot.

There is also a metaphor in Stanza I: "Smell / what fouled tunes come in / to his breath" (lines 3-5). The speaker is stuck inside his body, helpless and exposed to the disgusting physical sensations it takes in. In this metaphor, "fouled tunes" stands for the terrible things that the speaker's body smells.

Alliteration and Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of a vowel or sound in closely situated or consecutive words so that the echo of the sound is discernible. There are two examples of assonance in Stanza V. The first is in reference to the mind: "silver spiraled whirled against the / sun" (lines 24-5). The repetition of the "i" vowel sound and "s" consonant sound create assonance and speed up the rhythm of the poem. Baraka also employs assonance when describing the fingers of the old man in Stanza V: "They / are whithered yellow flowers and were never / beautiful" (lines 27-9). The repetition of the "w" sound helps to speed up the rhythm and construct the image of the old man's fingers.





The speaker's tone is tense and accusatory. Multiple times in the poem, he addresses a "you" that is alien from him. When the speaker encounters the chanting men, he professes that this "you" is not going through what he is going through: "They chant at my heels, not at yours" (line 34). The speaker stresses that the torture he experiences is individual; it comes from his deeply fragmented psyche. However, this doesn't mean that the speaker isn't the only one in this fearful situation. The separation between the soul and body happens to many people outside of the speaker in this poem (e.g. the people with the "hard flesh" in Stanza II or the "cold men" of Stanza VI). The speaker's voice is highly individualized, and even prophetic. He is the only one that can see the reality of the situation around him.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Major Conflict

As the speaker explores the separation between soul and body, he also experiences a conflict with an unnamed and hard-to-pin-down group of men. In the first stanza, he calls this group his "enemies" and they carry him around in a ritual-like procession, where the speaker feels like "a dead man" (lines 16-7). This image is confusing and hard to pin down, but the main thing to focus on is the mood it creates. It is certainly a scary situation, putting the speaker's life in question. Is it his funeral? Are the enemies celebrating his death—have they killed him? Next, a man (this time old) appears again in Stanza V, reading a book and sticking his whithered fingers into it. This could be an allusion to the Western literary and academic canon: the studies of old that created and upheld the broken society that Baraka lived in. Baraka understood that race relations in the United States weren't created in a vacuum. Instead, they were the product of the systematic oppression and disenfranchisement of people of color in a country that founded itself and thrived on that very oppression. The speaker is uneasy about this old man. The reader only experiences his description in pieces, starting with his old, "whithered" fingers sitting inside the pages of his books. A group of men appears for the final time in Stanza VI. This final image is the most ominous of all. They stand together, chanting in a windy place. They are hungry for something. There is a sense of incantation, ritual, and danger. They are antagonistic towards the speaker, following him closely.





Metonymy and Synecdoche