Various images are used to describe Africa: bronzed men under a copper sun, barbaric birds, jungle herds and tall grass, and so on. These images play on cliches about Africa in European and American literature, which is why the poem describes Africa as a "book." In this way, as vivid as the imagery is, it also reinforces the speaker's point about his distance from the continent and the second-hand nature of his experiences.
Melting Snow and Budding Trees
The imagery of snow which falls, muddies up daily life and then melts and disappears is contextually connected to the image of a tree that experiences yearly renewal and growth. The circumstances of the here-and now-dictate identity and behavior far more than an-almost mythic land and culture he can barely say he knows.
Bats and Cats
At one point, the poet compares Africa to a book that one reads before bed. This is followed by images of this faraway place. From relatively minor dangers like unseen bats flying in the night to far more dangerous threats like almost invisible carnivorous cats lurking in wait for one bad decision by their prey, Africa is not the idealistic dream vision it may seem to be.
Toward the end of the poem, Cullen discusses what has been lost and gained by Black people who have been taken from their ancestral homeland in Africa and brought to America. The iconography of “heathen” gods crafted in the image of black men was violently replaced with Christianity. Although a devoted Christian, the speaker allows himself to wonder how things might be different if Jesus looked more like him, or those long-forgotten "heathen" African gods.
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.