An Agony. As Now

An Agony. As Now Summary

"An Agony. As Now." is about the relationship between body and soul—can there be a body that is not connected to the soul? What would happen if there were some kind of rift between one's flesh and bones and the consciousness that controls it? The speaker in this poem feels as though he is trapped inside a body that "hates" him—a potentially disastrous and terrifying situation (line 2). Throughout this poem, the speaker provides more and more descriptions of his situation. It becomes abundantly clear that the speaker is experiencing some kind of psychological break that is generated by his outside environment and his body's physical pleasures, two things that he has lost control of. There are also descriptions of other kinds of bodies, made up of "white hot" metal that is "not/given to love," (lines 38, 41-2). Baraka's usage of the word "white" to describe certain bodies—a word that has obvious racial connotations in the time that Baraka is writing—opens up questions about race in this text. Ultimately, the poem is an exploration of the degrading result of race relations in America, and an inquiry into what it might mean to live in a body that is not just a vehicle for thought, but an object of political violence. The conclusion Baraka draws by the end of the poem is horrifyingly dire: perhaps the objectification of bodies (as they are portrayed as things in this poem) leads to the torture of the soul inside it. In the last line, the soul "screams" (line 46).

Like many Baraka poems, it is written in prose that feels fragmented or abstract—the meaning isn't immediate or easy to come by, and the few contextual clues are quite opaque. It is important to remember when reading a Baraka poem, therefore, that what is most important is the feeling you get from reading the poem. What kind of feelings is the poem trying to evoke in you? Are you uncomfortable or uneasy? Why would Baraka try to make you feel that way? That way, it can be easy to think about the overall message of the poem without getting caught up in the particular meanings of details.