Yet Do I Marvel

Yet Do I Marvel Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The speaker of "Yet Do I Marvel" is singular first-person.

Form and Meter

This poem is a sonnet. The meter is iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is: ABABCDCD EEFFGG. The first part of the poem is made up of two quatrains (ABAB CDCD). The list six lines (sextet) are written as rhymed couplets (each two lines rhyme): EE FF GG.

Metaphors and Similes

"When flesh that mirrors Him must some day die." Mirror-like flesh is a metaphor for God’s having created human beings in His likeness, according to the Bible.

Alliteration and Assonance

Line 1: consonance with “D” sounds, alliteration of “God” and “good”

Lines 5-6: alliteration of “Tortured Tantalus” and “fickle fruit”

Lines 7-8: alliteration of “Sisyphus,” “struggle,” and “stair”

Line 14: alliteration “black” and “bid”


The poem begins with the speaker insisting that he “doubt[s] not [that] God is good, well-meaning, kind,” but he goes on to give several examples of things that are difficult to square with God’s goodness. The poem concludes by suggesting that God's having given black people the ability to write poetry in a racist society is a cruel thing indeed. In all these ways, the words of the poem contradict its fundamental message, revealing the fundamental irony that structures the poem.


Twentieth-century American poetry; formalist poetry; Harlem Renaissance


The setting of the poem is unknown, as the thoughts unfold within the mind of the speaker.


Although the poem begins with a tone of humble acceptance, by the end of the poem it becomes clear that the poem is a subtly ironic, tongue-in-cheek critique of racism and the God that allows it.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The speaker vs. society; God vs. people who suffer

Major Conflict

The major conflict can be found in the main character's head and his inability to understand the will of God. The middle part of the poem describes different rhetorical inquiries as to why God made certain things as He did. Why does God allow suffering in the form of blindness, mortality, punishment, and racism?


The final line of the Sonnet is the clear ironic climax, where the character laments the fate of a black man as a poet in a world of racism.



The words used for the speaker's description of the difficulty African Americans face in being poets (and by extension, artists of any kind) in white society include "marvel" and "curious." These are examples of understatement.


“flesh that mirrors Him” -

This is an allusion to Genesis 1:27, which says “So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him.”

Tantalus -

Tantalus is a king from Greek mythology who angered the gods for stealing ambrosia and nectar and sharing it with his people, in some versions, or for offering his own son up as a sacrifice and trying to serve him up as food for a banquet the gods were attending. Tantalus (whose name gives us the English word “tantalize”) was punished by Zeus for these actions. He had to stand in a pool of water under a fruit tree. However, whenever he tried to eat the branches with the fruit would move out of reach. Whenever he tried to drink, the water receded.

Sisyphus -

Another figure from Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished by Zeus for his hubris or excessive pride. He was condemned to rolling an enchanted boulder up a steep hill. Every time he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down the hill. In this way, Sisyphus was condemned to a futile and repetitive fate.

“What awful brain compels His awful hand” -

This could be an allusion to William Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” which is also about the frightening things an all-powerful God chooses to do and create:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Metonymy and Synecdoche

“Flesh” is a metonymy representing human beings in their mortal bodies

A synecdoche can be found in the reference to God in the usage of "what awful brain compels His awful hand." The body parts referenced are meant to symbolize God's power.


In the description of Tantalus' torture, human agency is given to the fruit. A fruit in itself has no power to be "fickle." In this way, personification is used to describe the torture in even greater detail.