Joy Harjo’s “Remember” is a lyric poem talking about what it means to become human. The poem talks about the importance of remembering where a person comes from. Being a Native American, Harjo’s poem “Remember” focuses on the importance of human life and how human beings are connected with nature and his or her surroundings.
In today’s society where discrimination and racial prejudice is still rampant between individuals from different cultures, some try to deny and even would turn their backs away from their cultural background because of the shame that they believe that it brings to them, without realizing that this cultural background will always be a part of their identity and by denying their cultural background and where they came from is like denying and turning their backs on who they are completely. The most apparent feature of Harjo’s “Remember” is the usage of repetition.
In this poem, it is the word “remember” that is repeated throughout the poem. Each line of the poem begins with this word and the entire poem ends with this word. Harjo uses repetition in this poem not just to stress the importance of the theme of the poem which is to remember one’s past in order to move forward, but it also gives a rhythmic quality to the poem when said out loud, almost sounding like a song or a chant. This, in turn allows the poem to come to life. As mentioned earlier, the poem is a poem about life.
It talks about the circle of life which is that it is but normal that a baby is born, grows into an adult and once reaches a ripe old age, dies. It is the natural order of things in this world. More importantly, it talks about the importance on keeping one’s traditions. This is what Harjo was referring to when she mentioned the “stars’ stories” and being the “[…] evidence of her life, and her mother’s, and hers. ” It is common knowledge that stars last for millions of years. One single star may be witnessed by generations and generations. As such, it had witnessed so much of history and events with regards to a particular culture.
These stories told by the stars in Harjo’s poem symbolize the stories and traditions passed on from one generation to another which makes a certain culture unique and special. This is supported by the line of the talking about to remember the stories of the lives of those who came before and considered as part of the family such as parents, grandparents, and so on. Another point to notice in the poem is the importance given by the poet on mothers over fathers. The poem begins and talks about the importance of the individual remembering the mother for the next ten lines. She presents the importance of the father almost like a side note.
This is because she views the role of the female in the existence of an individual as far more important than that of the male for it is the female, and not the male, who is responsible for the birth of an individual. The earth we live in has been also been called Mother Earth, a female, who is responsible for bringing forth the plants and animals that humans need in order to survive. In fact, in all aspects of the poem, from the moon to the plants and animals, and the wind were referred to by the poet using the pronoun “she” which can come as a surprise to a society which have considered the male gender as the more superior gender.
Through the personification of Harjo on the elements and the sources of nourishment and survival to mankind as female instead of male, she challenges the traditional belief on male as the superior gender because without these elements and sources, life would not be possible. Harjo also discusses certain issues with regards to her cultural heritage. Being from a Native American descent, alcohol has been closely linked as part of their culture.
This is evident in the line “I met her in a bar once in Iowa City. Literally, it means that Native Americans can be found everywhere where there is alcohol showing on the importance of alcohol to Native Americans. The poem also shows how through communication, traditions are transferred from one generation to another. More importantly, it shows the importance of community and interaction is among Native Americans. This is because it is through their sense of community and need for interaction that they are able to pass on their traditions from one generation to another, which Harjo referred to as “alive poems” in her poem.
In her poem, however, Harjo also noted that despite the importance of communication and interaction among Native Americans, they are still struggling in the maintenance of their own culture. This is because of the increase of acculturation of the Caucasian American culture in society. Although they are considered as the Native Americans, meaning that they were the original inhabitants of the United States, their culture, history and traditions are being displaced by society and replaced by the society, understanding and beliefs of the Caucasian Americans dominating the country today.
In her poem, the line of the woman singing war songs in a corner symbolizes not only the struggle of Native Americans in preserving their own culture and traditions in the United States, but is applicable to all inhabitants of the country who come from a different cultural background. Finally, by ending the poem with the word “Remember,” Harjo brings the reader of the poem to the beginning. As such, gives a sense that the poem never ends. This symbolizes the journey of an individual through life.
As an individual develops, he or she would continuously look back at his or her past and the lessons learned while moving forward and continuing on living. Through this, Harjo tries to address in the poem that people should never forget the experiences, good or bad, that had occurred in their lives. Instead, they should carry the lessons learned from these experiences in order for them to become better individuals and assets of the society they live in. Joy Harjo’s poem “Remember” is an advice that she gives her reader on valuing the importance not just of past experiences, but also of one’s traditions and cultures.
In order to become a better individual, one has to look back at his or her past and be thankful and grateful for life in general as well as for the experiences that he or she has gone through. Moreover, one should remember who and what she or he is. This includes the acceptance and preservation of one’s culture. Even if the individual is living in another country with another culture, that individual must preserve the traditions and cultures that he or she had grown up with in spite of prejudice and racism because it is part of the individual. In general, the poem can be viewed either positively or negatively.
On one hand, it may be viewed as a form of rebellious literature because of its empowerment on the female gender in a society that views females as the inferior gender. On the other hand, this same empowerment given by Harjo to the female gender as well as giving importance to the preservation of one’s culture would give women and members of minority groups a sense of assurance and hope that being different from the majority should not be seen as a weakness. Rather, it is to be seen as part of what makes each individual unique and therefore special and important in society.