Arna Bontemps

Arna Bontemps (1902 - 1973)

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Creole parents. His father was a skilled brick mason who moved his family to Los Angeles when Arna was three years old. Tension developed between father and son when Arna refused to be apprenticed as a mason. He was sent away to a white boarding school in San Fernando with his father’s command not to “go up there acting colored.” Unhappy at what he saw as his father’s effort to make him forget his racial heritage, Bontemps went on to Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

A year later, Bontemps began to publish his poetry in magazines such as The Crisis and Opportunity, which encouraged the work of young African American writers. He had hoped to study for a Ph.D. in English, but after his marriage in 1926 and the subsequent birth of six children, he accepted teaching jobs to support his family. In 1926 he moved to New York City to teach at the Harlem Academy for five years, a period in which he was also close to several important figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer. In 1931 he published his first book, God Sends Sunday, a novel about a black St. Louis jockey. That year Bontemps moved to Huntsville, Alabama, to teach at Oakwood Junior College.

He grew frustrated at trying to reach his own generation and decided to write to younger readers, “not yet insensitive to man’s inhumanity to man.” For the remaining forty years of his life, Bontemps wrote biographies, children’s fiction, and black history, and compiled literary anthologies, often in collaboration with his close friends Langston Hughes and Jack Conroy. In 1943, after completing a master’s degree in library science, he served until his retirement as head librarian at Fisk University, developing an archive of African American cultural materials that is a major resource for study in this field.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Arna Bontemps's poem The Day-Breakers

14 Comments

  1. Anon Ymous says:

    This poem was written during the Harlem Renaissance (which lasted from the 1930s up until WW1) in which African Americans (and other poor Southerners who were jobless from the Great Depression) were migrating to industrial cities to find a new hope and better pay. The African Americans were drawn to Harlem in New York because it was an established African American community in which they could support each other. The Harlem Renaissance was a time in which African Americans showed America that they had a cultural identity and that they were a proud people as seen with the widespread love of jazz and certain dances such as the Stomp, both of which originated from African Americans.

    This poem exemplifies this with its analogy of waging war on a hill and the pointlessness in doing so. There is no point in trying to fight with an inanimate object. The first to lines show this, but without the next two lines, this seems rather grim when stepping out of the symbolism. It says that there is no point trying to fight the racism of the white people (which at the time was extremely high due to the lack of jobs increasing tension leading to riots and lynchings). The poems follows up by saying that there is no point to waste time trying to convince the white people who will never listen. The poem lastly provides the alternative: damaging oneself trying to find the rising sun or hope. I believe that this is partially irony in that Arna believes that this hope for a new world without the racism is achievable and that the African Americans should not just try to make do with what they have.

  2. MooSaysTheLiar says:

    I’m sorry but have any of you actually read this poem? The actual poet, Bontemps, lived from the beginning of the 1900s to the 1970s. If I’m not mistaken, slavery was abolished some thirty years before then. And even though he focuses mainly upon this aspect of the past in some other poems it does not mean that this specific poem does as well. Has anyone given a thought to this poem beyond fighting past white dominance? Here’s a hint: The last phrase “rising sun” may or may not mean new generation, or, more specifically, their children. I’m just saying, Bontemps is all about symbolism (in this context at least). “Look underneath the underneath.” (I stole this from that manga/anime Naruto but it fits perfectly with most aspects of poetry so deal with it.)

  3. Franny says:

    Im not sure all of you are understanding this poem…hes not saying that we are slaves, he is speaking in the terms of a former slave. This is a magnificent poem

    Bontemps at his best

  4. Beatriz says:

    i think that this poem has a power ful mean and that this is one of his best works that he has hea always thinks about the slave trade as metioned hea was a good intelligent poet

  5. Kufu Nzaba says:

    Well. English not very well. I no understand poem. This does not show black people. I am offended by poem. We are not slaves. I am a fisherman.

  6. Resov Namibia says:

    This poem is nto right! We black people are not slaves…what a failure of a poet…

  7. Stephanie says:

    this poem if anything, discusses slave trade just like in most of his poems. Arna bontemps mainly discusses, to what i believe, a deeper meaning in the slave trade. (ie. how they felt by saying that “we do not come to wage a strife”) this could be a stretch..but to me it means that the slaves werent the ones wanting to fight. all they asked for was freedom and that is all the want/ needed but it was the slave owner who started and ended every argument and fight. Arna is now bringing back the past and putting it into reality today becuase alot of what went on then, is still going on now to some extent. Though not nearly as agressive, of course, but in people’s mind they have about the same idea. Racism is just another problem in today’s society, and Bontemps expresses a great deal of it in about every single one of his works.

  8. Jakima Davis says:

    Smooth!

  9. Jacqueline Amos says:

    But yet in this time I feel the pain, oh what a bitter taste, the source of DNA continues to relive in the silence of death, but yet the inner of the soul as I my brother who stood before the cross, I sing the song of rebirth, the warrior will follow in my soul, to be a man the eyes of the soul, to live through humality the hardest test by the almighty, but yet I stand tall, and face the burning bullet that aims to my soul, their are better grounds that I must meet, through the spirit of the soul, I shall rise black man.
    This poems delays the souls of warriors who stood all arms, I give much respect, the spirit that lives through me, the torch of Arna Bontemps I shall deliver to another day. I love this another strong brother who has past the torch.

  10. Henrie says:

    This poem might have been posted a while ago or even a longer time when it was made, but something about this is still true today. I like it and it makes so much sence today in the time that we are livin in. He went deep and above on this one.

  11. Bridget says:

    This is a deep, passionate feeling from this poets heart. It cries out the desperation of needed change in our society.

  12. Bridget says:

    This is a deep, passionate feeling from this poets heart. It’s cries out the desperation of needed change in our society.

  13. Jessica Rodriguez says:

    Hey i think that Arna Bontemps is a very powerful and intelligant poet. He is a very moving poet.

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