Written by Himself
By Gregory Pardlo
I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.
Summary of Written by Himself
- Popularity of “Written by Himself”: “Written by Himself” by Gregory Pardlo, a famous American poet and writer, is a symbolic poet. It was published in 2014 in his second collection The poem encompasses the writer’s story related to his birth. The use of rich and varied allusions, intended use of repetitions, and the idea of personal mythology have made this poem popular across the world.
- “Written by Himself” As a Represented of Sorrow: The poem accounts for the speaker’s ideas about one’s identity and struggle. It begins when he contemplates his suspicious and strange birth in a place where objects like skillet announce his arrival. This ironic start provides a hint of the painful experiences he might have had in life. The poem captures no sense of joy in his birth; instead, it makes the readers imagine how he is born and abandoned outdoor in extreme weather. Even at birth, his identity, as well as gender, remains a mystery. The horrors he witnesses soon after birth makes him stand at a place where he could read minds before reading anything else. However, it’s ironic when he says that he has envisioned the path that leads to his birth even before birth.
- Major Themes in “Written by Himself”: Identity crisis, sadness, and modernism are the major themes of the poem. This poem is a perfect example of the modern world, where even simple ideologies are complex to understand. Using powerful diction and a sarcastic tone, the speaker makes his reader imagine the efforts one makes to create his name in the world. Unfortunately, if a person belongs to a community considered inferior in the world, he has to pay the extra price for living. The problems he endures directs him to a path where he can easily identify the black and white realities of the world.
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Written by Himself”
- Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born” and the sound of /o/ in “ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born.”
- Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. Gregory has repeated the words “I was” in the first stanza of the poem to emphasize the point such as;
“I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying”
- Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /r/ in “I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying” and the sound of /n/ in “I was an index of first lines when I was born.”
- Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;
“I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;”
- Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The poet has used this device in the ending line of the poem such as “I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.”
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Gregory Pardlo has used imagery in this poem such as; “I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born”, “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry” and “I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air.”
- Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poet has used his birth as an extended metaphor in the poem to show how every man encounters different birth experiences.
- Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet has personified a skillet at the beginning of poem such as; “I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet / whispering my name.”
- Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from literal meanings. “Unexpected burden” symbolizes the terrific life of the speaker.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Written by Himself”
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.
- Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having metaphors.
- Free Verse: The poem does not follow any rhyme scheme. Therefore, it is a free verse poem having no rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
- Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “I was born” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
- Refrain: The lines occurring repeatedly at some distance in a poem are called a refrain. The verse “I was born” is, therefore, a refrain.
- Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in this poem with each comprising a different number of lines.
Quotes to be Used
These lines from “Writing by Himself” are useful to use while talking about the wisdom of someone.
“I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.”