These first few lines are crucial to setting the tone of the rest of the poem. They immediately set up the theme of separation between the body and the soul. They are a direct and strongly-worded statement that pulls the reader into the intense psychological terror of the rest of the poem. The language is direct; Baraka doesn't use any fancy words that would stop the reader from understanding the implications of this statement. It also speaks to the reader's sense of empathy and understanding--we have all felt self-hatred before (if you haven't, maybe you are a superhero or you've completely blocked out the puberty years). This poem evokes those feelings, but in a heightened, extreme way.
"This is the enclosure (flesh,
where innocence is a weapon. An
This passage explicitly lays out the force behind the separation of the soul from the body: people are trapped in their flesh as a result of a world that preys on the innocent. Turn on the news the next time there is an attack or shooting, and you will see what Baraka means. Evil, no matter where it is coming from, seems to stalk the innocent, who are not expecting it and who cannot defend themselves. It is had to be a living, breathing human in this kind of world, especially if you are, as Baraka was, marked as part of a group that has been traditionally and institutionally tortured, pushed down, and/or criminalized. The powers that cause this inequality are an "abstraction"—it is very hard to pin them down or define them (line 14). Our flesh is also an "abstraction" because perceptions of race are social constructs. The way that bodies are seen and categorized are often not rooted in scientific fact but instead are upheld by abstract notions perpetuated in society. The speaker feels trapped in these kinds of abstractions—it makes his flesh feel foreign and separate from himself.
"it is a human love, I live inside. A bony skeleton
you recognize as words or simple feeling"
In this passage, the speaker is locating the true dwelling of the soul if it doesn't live in the body. The speaker says that he lives in "human love"—an abstract concept, but one that makes sense when it is thought through. As humans, we exist only in ourselves and in the minds of those who love us. The people who love us know our true selves, the souls that are separate from the confines of our bodies. A person is not much more than "a bony skeleton," but we are recognized as who we are through "words or simple feeling." The people who truly see us include our friends, our family, the people we talk to, and the people we write to. This passage offers a kind of hopeful solution to the major conflict of "An Agony. As Now"—living inside a body in this world is torturous and has disastrous consequences, but at least we also exist through the connections we have with other humans. This also suggests the hope or desire behind the poem: that the poem itself could create that kind of connection (say, between the poet and the reader), and thus lessen the "agony" of being simply trapped in a foreign body
An Agony. As Now Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for An Agony. As Now is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.