The Contrapuntal* Civilization
I have died in Vietnam.
But I have walked the face of the moon.
I have befouled* the waters and tained* the air of a
magnificent land. But I have made it safe from disease.
I have flown through the sky faster than the sun.
But I have idled in streets made ugly with traffic.
I have littered* the land with garbage.
But I have built upon a hundred million homes.
I have divided schools with prejudice.
But I have sent armies to unite them.
I have beat down my enemies with clubs.
But I have built courtrooms to keep them free.
I have built a bomb to destroy the world.
But I have used it to light a light.
I have outraged my brothers in the alleys of the ghetto.
But I have transplanted a human heart.
I have scribbled out filth* and pornography.
But I have elevated the philosophy of man.
I have watched children starve from my golden towers.
But I have fed half of the earth.
I was raised in a grotesque slum.
But I am surfeited* by silver sppon of opulence*.
I live in the greatest country in the world of the greatest
time in history. But I scorn* the ground I stand upon.
I am ashamed.
But I am proud.
I am an American
*contrapuntal - contrasting
*to befoul sth - to dirty sth
*to taint - to pollute
*to litter - here: to cover
*filth - offensive words
*to be surfeited by - to be given too much of
*opulence - great wealth
*to scron - to feel contempt for
1. What contradictions and ambivalences in the American character does this poem suggest?
2. What different social and historical aspects does the writer refer to when contrasting positive and negative features of American achievements?
3. What figure of speech does the author use frequently?
4. If the last line 'I am an American' were substituted by 'I am a human being'. Would the poem still make sense? Substantiate your opinion.