Tableau (Countee Cullen poem)

Tableau (Countee Cullen poem) Study Guide

"Tableau" is a poem by American writer Countee Cullen describing an interracial romance between two men. Originally published in 1925, the poem appeared in Cullen's first poetry collection, Color. Cullen was born in 1903, supposedly in Louisville, Kentucky, although this remains unconfirmed by birth records. When he was nine years old, he moved to Harlem and was raised by his grandmother, and later adopted, at age 15, by the Reverend Frederick A. Cullen. After showing early literary talent, Cullen pursued an undergraduate degree at New York University and a Master's degree in English at Harvard. His poetry received significant recognition and was published in national magazines like Harper's, Poetry, and The Bookman. Cullen became a central fixture of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement, interacting frequently with luminaries like Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston. While his own work often focused on scenes from Black communities, he also stated that it was heavily influenced by white writers like John Keats and Edna St. Vincent Millay. "Tableau" in particular describes the collision of these worlds, as it shows a romance between a white man and a Black man.

The poem begins with the image of two men walking down the street together, highlighting the difference in their complexion with comparisons to the beauty of night and day. The next stanza describes the snide glares and comments of Black and white onlookers. The final stanza describes their indifference to the opinions of these people, as they continue on their path. The speaker describes them moving together like lightning leading thunder. The poem is made up of three quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme. This neat structure gives the piece an appropriate symmetry, as it describes two different halves of a romantic relationship as well as other binaries, like lightning and thunder and day and night. In a relatively brief space, the poem conveys a powerful rejection of the social stigma around interracial relationships.