We are not come to wage a strife
With swords upon this hill,
It is not wise to waste the life
Against a stubborn will.
Yet would we die as some have done.
Beating a way for the rising sun.

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


  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:


  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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Arna Bontemps better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.