In 1925, a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Countee Cullen, published his first collection of poetry, titled Color. The overarching theme is appropriately matched to the title; the color of skin and the way that the color of one’s skin impact how one lives runs throughout the collection. At the center of that collection is Cullen’s most often anthologized and perhaps most-studied and analyzed poem, “Yet Do I Marvel.”
“Yet Do I Marvel” is an example of Cullen’s mastery of the sonnet form. The poem also is highly indicative of Cullen’s obsessions with racial inequality as well as being a demonstration of his ability to draw upon ancient allusions to point out the transcendence of religious irony. Ultimately the poem asks the reader to be aware that God’s plans are beyond the comprehension of man’s understanding while leading toward the soul-shattering conclusion that asks just what in hell a supernatural creator being was doing by endowing a black with the soul of a poet in a world that barely recognized a black person’s right to call themselves a human being.
The marvel to which Cullen leads his reader is unmistakably universal and impossible to ignore. Combined with systemic racism still being an issue nearly 100 years later, “Yet Do I Marvel” is also impossibly—unfathomably—universally recognized as being a question worth asking.