Domination of Black by Wallace Stevens

Dominationof Blackby Wallace Stevens

Thepoem is written in a symbolic and imagist form. The title of the poemis symbolic ‘Dominationof the black’may infer something evil or death. The poem unfolds like a shorthorror film. The narrator first describes the flickering of leavesand bush colors which turn to wind. Then ambiguous peacocks descendfrom the heavy hemlocks. Later, the narrator notices planetsgathering outside like isomorphic leaves and feels afraid as thethreat of darkness engulfs. The poem main theme is life and death.The poem has been written in rich symbolic and imagery form throughthe choice of words and the poem structure.

Thestructure of the poem

Whenthe poem is read aloud, it reveals great use of rhythms throughrepetition of several words and word phrases. Same words areemphasized differently and in different accentual structure. Thisemphasizing helps in exposing the weight and unifies the main themein the whole poem. In the poem, the word ‘wind,’cry,’ ‘leaves,’ ‘hemlocks,’ ‘peacocks,’ ‘themselves’and‘I’havebeen repeated almost five times each. Other words such as ‘turning’‘turned’ ‘fire’ ‘loud’ ‘heavy’ ‘tails’‘twilights’ and‘striding’have been repeated severally in the poem. Phrases like ‘cryof the peacock,’and ‘theleaves themselves’have been repeated almost three times each. Steven use of heavyrepetition can be conceived as aimed to emphasize particular meaningthe meaning associated with the theme of life and death. Forinstances, in the second stanza the repetition of the words ‘turning’and ‘turned’ is more profound. The speaker says, “Turningin the wind, turning as the flames, turned in the fire, turning asthe tails of the peacocks, turned in the loud fire.”The repetition of these words stresses the meaning of a particularchange maybe change in life or life after death.

Theuse of first person is also interesting. For instance, in the firststanza last sentence the speaker says “Yes:but the color of the heavy hemlocks…Came striding…And Iremembered the cry of the peacocks.”the narrator uses this literary device to make the reader feel and‘actively’ participate in the life of the narrator. The use offirst person in the poem helps the reader see events as happening inreal-world but with a magical trappings the purpose is to elicitimagination and emotions as experienced by the narrator. Inparticular, the use of first person helps in developing the theme oflife and death the reader experiences the feelings of the speaker ashe gets ‘fearful’ due to darkness.

Ina rare dramaturgy, the poet compares the flickering of fire to autumnleaves and the peacocks’ tails to that of hemlock trees. In thelast three sentences of the second stanza, this comparison can beseen as the narrator says, “Turnedin the loud fire, Loud as the hemlocks full of the cry of thepeacocks?”The poet compares the fire’s noise and the noise of the peacock andthe hemlock to signify the aspect of life. Noise signifies theenvironment in one’s life as opposed to silent which may infer themain theme which is death.

Inanother instance, the poet compares the fire’s noise to that ofpeacocks and hemlocks. The ‘gatheringplanets’are also conceived in the same way as ‘turningleaves’changing of seasons. This can be found in the last stanza, the secondand third sentences, “Isaw how the planets gathered…Like the leaves themselves.”This means that, ‘thegathering of the planets’and ‘turningof leaves’are signs indicating something new is about to happen. The impressionis that, as planets gathers or leaves turns, there is change that isabout to happen. In this case, it could infer change in life or lifeafter death which is the main theme of the poem. In addition, thepoet parallels the flickering of fire to darkness outside but as thedarkness scares the narrator, the cry of a peacock makes him feelbetter. In this way, the narrator choice of words relates to theintended theme. Reading the poem one easily comprehends the poets’main theme and ideas. The poem is an illustration of a creativeimagination work.


Thepoem ‘Dominationby black’is a symbolic poem aimed at explaining the theme of annihilation anddeath. This is evident in the way the poet has chosen his words. Inthe poem, the narrator draws inference on evergreen hemlocks that donot change with seasons with peacocks that replace their feathers. Inthis way, the narrator presents the symbolism of death and life bycontrasting the aspects of hemlock trees with peacocks. The peacockscry signifies continuity of life ‘nightcame striding…I felt afraid and remembered the cry of the peacock’(Wallace,last stanza, line 10). The cry of the peacock signifies continuity oflife as seen in the poem. After the narrator gets ‘afraidof the night’he remembers the ‘cryof the peacock’and feels relieved. ‘Night’ in this poem could mean the fear ofdeath. As such, as the narrator gets afraid of death, the peacocknoise reminds him of the life surrounding him. In this way, thepeacock symbolizes continuity of life.

Thetitle ‘Dominationof black’symbolizes how human beings are constantly surrounded by death due tounresolved mystery. The imagination style used by the poet helps toconvey the meaning of how death appears as a great fear yet it isjust an illusion. In the third paragraph the narrator says, “Isaw how the night came, Came striding like the color of the heavyhemlocks..I felt afraid….And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.”In this case, the cry of the peacock makes the narrator realize thecontinuity of life. The narrator is afraid of death but the peacock’snoise reminds him of the life surrounding him. The choice of the word‘peacock’has powerful divine connotation on immortality the peacock tail hashistorical religious supernatural meanings across many societies.Various religions associate ‘peacock’feathers and flesh with religious symbolisms. Peacock featherssignify continuity of life in religions such as Hinduism, Islam andChristianity.

Theuse of imagery and symbolism

Thepoem has expansive usage of imagery and symbolism. The title of thepoem ‘Dominionof black’is symbolic. ‘Black’is associated with evil, death or other suicidal aspects across manysocieties. The narrator choice of words such as‘night’ ‘fire’ and‘leaves’carries symbolic meanings related to the poem’s theme of life anddeath. In part, ‘turning of leaves’ is used to infer continuityof life. The words night and fire are symbolic and can be construedto mean death and life. For instance in the last stanza the narratorsays, “Isaw how the night came, I felt afraid”meaning that the narrator was afraid of ‘night’ which meansdeath. The ‘flickeringof fire’into many colors depicts one’s life when alive in the same wayautumn leaves flourish. The speaker says, “Turningas the flames…Turned in the fire,”the flickering of fire symbolizes an ongoing aspect which in thiscase is continuity of life.

Inaddition, the narrator has used extensive imagery. For instance, theencroaching of darkness is likened to the dark green color of hemlocktrees the fire noise is compared to the peacock and hemlock noise.Later the speaker provides imagery by comparing the turning of leavesto the changing of seasons. In this way, the narrator helps to bringout relatedness of shared meaning. Imagery is used to enhance morecomprehension on the intended meaning and the theme conveyed.Throughout the poem, symbolism and imagery are the major stylisticdevices used to bring out the theme of death and life.


Thespeaker presents the unfolding of events in a dramatic sequence. Thenarrator first explains and relates the events in startlingnarration. This dramatization is presented through comparingdifferent scenarios to give the reader a wider imagination. Theaudiences are able to make meaning from the poem as systematicallyexplained by the speaker. Dramaturgy helps in exploring the theme oflife and death. By explaining the sequence of events in a dramaticstyle, the speaker draws on the readers’ emotions. For instance,‘asthe night came striding like the color of hemlock…I felt afraid’(Wallace, last stanza line 10). In this case, the description helpsreaders visualize and share the emotional feelings of fear as thespeaker.


Thenarrator has extensively used figurative language to evoke readers’imagination. Throughout the poem the author has used metaphoricphrases to evoke readers’ imagination on the intended theme. Forinstance, the narrator says in the second stanza, “Thecolors of their tails…Were like the leaves themselves…” In thiscase, the narrator wish to evoke the readers’imagination on how the different colors of the peacock tail resemblesthose of autumn leaves. In this case, the narrator want to infer theimagination of a ‘lively’ ‘beautiful’ life continuity oflife. When the narrator gets afraid of ‘night’ the cry of thepeacock relives him. In the second stanza, “Iheard them cry — the peacocks….Was it a cry against thetwilight…?”The crying of peacocks against darkness is metaphorical elicit theimagination of one resisting death which is the main theme of thepoem.

&quotCulturalExchange&quot by Langston Hughes

Briefoverview of the poem

Thegeneral theme of the poem is domination and exploitation of the blackAmerican community. The poem explores on two forms of ‘CulturalExchange’ between the White and black American in the 50s. In thepoem, Hughes imagines reversal of roles between the whites andblacks where white women becomes servants to elite blacks in thesame way black women have served the whites for many years. In thepoem two cultural exchanges have been explored the comfortable imageof black and the unacknowledged fear by the whites on black communitypower. The poem is divided into two columns main poetic lines andthe imagined music jazz. In this analysis, focus is on word choice,structure and literary devices used in the poem and how they relateto the poem main theme of ‘cultural exchange.’

Thepoem structure

Useof Rhyme Scheme and Repetition

Theopening structure of the poem resembles jazz music melody. The poetuses this part to explain how Hughes conceived a melody to arousereaders’ attentiveness. At the start of the poem in the first andsecond lines, Hughes uses part of sentences such as “In the” and“In the quarter” before writing full sentence “In the quarterof the negroes.” This hesitation resembles the artistic style usedin jazz music with initial words to warm up a jazz musician. In thetenth stanza the poet repeats twice the phrase “won’t let it gountil it thunders” as well as the line “In the shadow of thenegroes” (Hughes stanza ten). A rhyme scheme of ‘CulturalExchange’ is similar to typical jazz melody where free compositionstyle is used.

Theuse of jazz melody structure in the opening part of the poem gives ita dramatic impression. In particular, the use of repetition and rhymescheme helps in emphasizing the theme of ‘cultural exchanges’.Repetition of phrases and the use of rhyme scheme help readers formmental images on aspects inferred by the poet. For instance, therepetition of the phrase ‘in the quarter of Negroes’ in the firstand second stanzas give helps in explaining the context and thesubjects of the poems theme. In stanza seven, the poet has repeatedthe phrase ‘mammy’ severally to explain the aspect of ‘culturalexchange’ where powerful black race adopts the white race values.



Hugheshas employed vast rhetoric to persuade readers understand the topicin their own ways. Rhetoric devices are used to elicit rationaljudgment by readers especially through emotional display. In thepoem, Hughes has used ironic metaphors to convey the information on‘black supremacy.’ For instance, in the first and second stanzathe poet uses ironic metaphor to infer the domination of blacks bywhite yet the former appears comfortable and reserved. He says, “Inthe Quarter of the Negroes….Where the doors are doors of paper…Leontyne`s unpacking and the pot is stewing” (Hughes secondstanza).

Theuse of ironic metaphor makes the readers reason why Leontyne is notbothered by the prevailing ‘environment of racial prejudice.’ Inthis case, the poet wishes to illustrate how the black race hasbecome accustomed to racial prejudice. However, the white raceappears disturbed, ‘have nightmares’ that if the black raceattains power the white race will be in trouble. In the fifth stanzaLeontyne responds to a sarcastic question from a white fellow abouthis blackness, “I said, ask your mama.’ This shows the raisingpower of assertiveness among the black race. In the fourth stanza thepoet’s inquisitive statement is ironic and infers the fears of‘Cultural exchanges.’ Hughes asks Leontyne “on the old ironstove what`s cooking…What`s smelling, Leontyne?” In this context,the element of ‘fear’ is seen the whites fear that blacksupremacy would oppress the whites.


Thepoet has borrowed heavily from the alliteration pattern used inslaves’ songs by African American. For instance, in the firststanza alliteration is used in the first lines “Where the doorsare doorsof paper/ Dustof dingyatoms.”In this case, alliteration of the sound‘d’ seeks to drawreaders attention to the issue discussed. In the ninth stanza, thepoet has used alliteration in the lines “Lieder,lovelyLieder/and a leafof collardgreen/LovelyLiederLeontyne”.The use of alliteration in the poem is used to emphasis and drawreaders’ attention towards the subject discussed. In this way thereader is able to understand the authors theme of ‘culturalexchange’ among the subjects.

Choiceof words ‘Negros’ ‘Dream’ ‘Nightmare’

Inthe poem, the poet has used specific words to bring out the thematicmeaning intended for the poem. For instance, the words ‘Negroes’‘white Mummies’ ‘dreams’ and ‘nightmares’ are repeatedacross the poem. In particular, the authors choice of ‘Negros’and ‘white mummies’ word phrases have symbolic meaning in thepoem. ‘Negroes’ is a collective name used by the white to referto the black community. ‘White mummies’ is a rather unusualphrase that symbolically refers to white female servants.

Inthe sixth stanza of the poem, Hughes repeats the phrase ‘Dreams andnightmares’ twice and links it to Negroes power. The insinuation isthat, the white race lives in fear (nightmare) at the thought ofblack supremacy. The whites fear and do not fathom a ‘culturalexchange’ where powerful blacks will have white servants. In thisway, the poet choice of words like ‘Negroe’ ‘dream’ and‘nightmare’ relates to the theme of ‘cultural exchange.’ Theauthor’s choice of words and repetition helps readers incomprehending the thematic meaning inferred by the poet.


HughesLangston “Cultural Exchange” (1February 1902 – 22 May 1967 / Missouri)Retrieved from

WallaceStevens &quotDomination of Black&quot (October2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)Retrieved from