The first-person speaker is the protagonist of the poem. The poem takes the form of a personal narrative about "what[...]Africa [is] to me." As the speaker reveals, he views Africa idyllic, making direct references to the Garden of Eden. He fondly describes memories about this "Unremembered" continent with its "trampling tall defiant grass" and "spicy grove, cinnamon tree." Despite this vision, the speaker feels disconnected from the continent, as "one three centuries removed." He also attempts to distance himself from certain parts of African traditions, writing "heathen Gods are naught to me." He is a proud Christian, writing "I belong to Jesus Christ," but also admits that in his mind, God is black. He ends the poem considering the enduring power of heritage, concluding "not yet has my heart or head/ In the least way realized/ They and I are civilized."
The poem begins with a dedication to Harold Jackman who, like Cullen, was associated with the Harlem Renaissance. The two have been rumored to be lovers, though this has not been proven.
Cullen presents Africa as though it is a personified character. It is the host of "copper sun or scarlet sea/ jungle star or jungle track" and is heavily idealized in Cullen's writing. He also claims Africa is like a "book one thumbs": full of powerful plants, animals, and people yet distant and second-hand. As a diverse and dreamy setting, it is also a place with which Cullen has a complicated relationship.
Cullen references Jesus Christ in the sixth stanza of the poem. He proclaims his faith in Christ, and states that "heathen gods are naught to me."
The speaker imagines his ancestors in Africa, describing them as "fathers," "Strong bronzed men, or regal black Women," and "young forest lovers."
Heritage (poem) Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Heritage (poem) is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.