The opening lines of "An Agony. As Now." introduce the major theme of Separation of the Self and the Body in this poem: "I am inside someone / who hates me," (lines 1-2). From the first two lines, readers can already see that the speaker of the poem feels an intense psychological rift, where there are two or more consciousnesses vying with each other within one physical body. This theme extends throughout the entirety of the poem, and it causes the speaker great pain: "It can be pain. (As now, as all his / flesh hurts me.)" (lines 19-20). In this passage, the theme of separation between the self and body is evident in that the flesh that causes the speaker's pain is "his," referring to some other entity. Though the speaker is feeling pain because of his flesh, his flesh is not his own, it is part of someone else's body. The rift between mind and body creates a corruption, perhaps in both entities or in only one of them: "Flesh / or soul, as corrupt," (lines 34-5). The speaker clearly finds himself in a disastrous and tortured state.
This theme is apparent in the larger narrative of the psychological turbulence of the speaker. In the last stanza of the poem, Baraka describes another identity that is experiencing a rift between the mind and the body: "It burns the thing / inside it. And that thing / screams," (lines 43-5). Here, that which is burning is not the physical body but instead, that thing inside of the body is being burned and is screaming. Imagine being tortured while also trapped inside of something foreign and unpleasant, with no way to get out and there is no way to get out. It is an incredibly terrifying scene of psychological torture that is intended to be jarring for most readers. Similarly, the speaker's loss of sanity causes him great pain and psychological terror. He equates the confusion of his mind to pain in Stanza IV: "Or pain, the mind / silver spiraled whirled against the / sun," (lines 23-5).
An Agony. As Now Questions and Answers
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