Facing It

Facing It

by Youssef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

Summary of Facing It

  • Popularity of “Facing It”: This poem was written by Youssef Komunyakaa, a great American poet. ‘Facing It’ is a thought-provoking literary piece about war and loss of identity. The poem speaks about the precious lives lost in the brutalities of war. It also illustrates how its memories hunt the people who survive the horrific war.
  • “Facing It” As a Representative of Loss: The poem deals with the speaker’s reaction to seeing Vietnam Veterans Memorials in the war-affected areas and the horrific memories that the area reflects. The speaker feels the loss of identity while looking at the memorial. He feels that the black granite wall is similar to his blackface. He pretends to be strong, but the tragedies he has faced in the past start haunting him again. Those dark, horrible, and fearsome incidents begin to appear in his mind, making him feel the acute pain in life.
    Upon seeing his reflection on that memorial, which appears and disappears depending on the light beam, he starts to think about his own identity. With a heavy heart, he skims through the figures of those who lost their precious lives in the war when suddenly his eyes catch a glimpse of a familiar name, reminding him how he had lost the battle of his life. Unfortunately, his train of imagination is disrupted with the flapping wings of a bird.
  • Major Themes in “Facing It”: Life and death, survival, and loss are the major themes underlined in this poem. Throughout the poem, the speaker is reminiscing the sacrifices of soldiers involved in the Vietnam War. Despite his resistance, he gets emotional while looking at the memorial. In fact, the wall presents him with his own participation in the war and makes him relive the harsh realities. However, his imagination is disturbed by the flapping of a bird. Although he gets back to present life, yet his mind is still stuck in the past.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Facing It”

Literary devices are essential elements of a literary text. They bring richness to the text and help the readers understand the hidden meanings. Youssef Komunyakaa has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “like a bird of prey, the profile of night” and “hiding inside the black granite.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /f/ in “My black face fades” and the sound of /v/ “the Vietnam Veterans Memorial”.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /d/ in “hiding inside the black granite” and the sound of /s/ in “a woman’s trying to erase names”.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break. Instead, it continues in the next line. For example,

“My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “The sky. A plane in the sky”, “a woman’s trying to erase names” and “No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between persons and objects different in nature. For example, the poet compares himself with stone and flash in, “I’m stone. I’m flesh”.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, in the seventh line, “the stone lets me go”, the stone is personified.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Here, the memorial is the symbol of pain and horrors of war.
  5. Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare a person or objects with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. Here, the poet’s reflection or thought is compared to a bird of prey in the opening lines of the poem.

My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night .”

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Facing It”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This is a long one stanza poem having thirty-one verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful on the occasion of a speech about the effects of war or recalling a loved one who is no more.

“My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t
Dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.”