Text analysis
“Black Poet, White Critic”
by Dudley Rundall
Approaching Literary Genres p. 49
Black Poet, White Critic
A critic advises
not to write on controversial subjects
like freedom or murder,
but to treat universal themes
and timeless symbols
like the white unicorn.
A white unicorn?
After reading the poem , consider its title. Who do you think is speaking ?
• A black poet is speaking here.
What relation does the title have to the poem?
The title is central to the meaning of the poem; the only occurrence of the term “black” is in the title, as
well as the contrast with “white”, which in the poem is repeated only at the end, but with great emphasis.
Why are subjects like freedom and murder considered “controversial” by the critic?
Because they are linked to the poet’s ideas and beliefs (ideology) and imply a judgment on contemporary
issues that could cause trouble with politicians or the public opinion. To treat these themes the poet should
leave the ivory tower of “universal themes and timeless symbols” (ll.4-5), which are safe ground, where there
are no controversies, and no decision to make.
The themes and symbols suggested by the critic are “universal” and “”timeless”. What does this suggest?
They suggest that art should avoid treating contemporary issues . As a matter of fact, we
cannot say that freedom and murder are not universal and timeless topics, but they are
usually strongly connected with the existing political and social conditions. The black poet
speaking here feels that freedom and murder (crime) are vital issues for black people in a
society dominated by white people.
The simple, conversational rhythm of the poem depends on some neatly balanced parallels . Underline (at least)
one example of balanced, parallel sentences.
Black poet, white critic (title); “not to write on controversial subjects ... but to treat
universal themes” (ll.2,4); “like freedom or murder... like the white unicorn (ll. 3, 6).
6. What relation is there between the elements of these parallel sentences? Give reasons for your choice/s:
 contrast
 understanding
 similarity
 suspicion
The relation is one of contrast. The first elements of the parallel sentences indicate what is felt by the poet , while the
second elements indicate what the white critic says. Notice that the white unicorn stands for art void of any social
Now consider the italics in the last line. What does the use of the italics usually suggest in English?
They suggest a particular emphasis . The use of italics is the written equivalent of of a
strong of a strong emphasis in spoken English (“A white unicorn?”.
Why are they used here?
• They emphasize the role of the adjective “white”, so that the reader understands that the unicorn stands for a symbol of white
culture , tradition and power. The “universal themes and timeless symbols” used in poetry are nothing but an expression of
white culture.
9. Highlight in red one more typographical device that makes the reader’s attention concentrate on the last line
A critic advises
not to write on controversial subjects
like freedom or murder,
but to treat universal themes
and timeless symbols
like the white unicorn.
A white unicorn?
The typographical device is the blank line between line 6 and line 7.
10. Do you think it achieves its effect?
Yes, it does. The last line is so effective also because the reader is given a pause to reflect on the idea of the
white unicorn (l.6) and then this same idea is questioned as a subject of poetry for a black poet.
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