In these opening lines, the speaker is contemplating his complex and long-standing relationship with Africa. Here, it is made very clear that the speaker's first response to Africa is one of fondness. He uses very particular adjectives that elicit a sharp and specific vision in the reader’s mind. The description of the sun as copper and the sea as scarlet paint a richly beautiful visage of Africa. In this way, it is clear that the narrator views Africa as home—a place rich with beauty and familiarity.
So I lie, who all day long
Want no sound except the song
Sung by wild barbaric birds
It is at this point in the poem that the speaker begins to expose his complex relationship with Africa. He suggests that Africa is not the entirely beautiful place he described, but is rather filled with “wild barbaric birds.” It becomes clear that the narrator is in conflict with his feelings about his heritage. Though this conflict is not explored further until later in the poem, it is here that the speaker hints that his relationship with his heritage and Africa is complex and not as positive as he described earlier.
Though I cram against my ear
Both my thumbs, and keep them there,
Great drums throbbing through the air.
Here, the speaker begins to explore the true nature of his cultural conflict. It becomes clear that he feels torn between his black heritage and his white expectations. He feels pressure to abandon his heritage and conform to the white perspective. He feels so pressured to abandon his heritage that he plugs his ears with his thumbs in an attempt to ignore the throbbing drums of Africa. In other words, the speaker describes the horrible internal struggle he feels. He is torn between an obligation to his African heritage and the expectations of the society in which he currently lives.
My conversion came high-priced;
I belong to Jesus Christ,
Preacher of humility;
Heathen gods are naught to me.
Here, the speaker addresses the sacrifices he has made to conform to the European perspective. He refers to the abandoning of his religious traditions and the adoption of Christianity. The speaker explains that to survive in this world, he must forget his African identity. Included in this identity are the speaker’s religious beliefs. He admits to following the religion of Jesus Christ. He explains that this sacrifice was made at a high price—his cultural and religious identity. In this way, we learn that the narrator has sacrificed much of the African culture than he admired.
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.