Yusef Komunyakaa’s Facing It

Returning Vietnam veterans had an especially hard time reconnecting to the world upon their return home. Both their mental and physical stresses, compounded by the fact that there were a large number of people who chose to hate and beguile these men, caused them to be clinically depressed or even in some cases drove them to insanity. In Komunyakaa’s “Facing It”, we get an in depth look at the personal casualties and inner conflict set between the veteran and his inability to cope with the memories he is having.

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It is most commonly thought that Komunyakaa is the narrator, telling this poem in first person straight from his memories of the Vietnam War. He uses the physical properties of his surroundings and the wall itself to illustrate his recollections. The polished surface of the wall casts a ghostly illusion to those who stare and gives an impression that Yusef Komunyakaa’s views of these ghosts are a representation of the struggle Yusef Komunyakaa suffers in search for his emotional resolve over the Vietnam War. It is easy to agree with Brown’s statement, “Ironically, the memorial is popularly referred to as “the wall” because it is shaped like a wall; however, its “nickname” also signifies the emotional dead end many survivors of the war come up against when visiting the site.” Brown 1. Over the entirety of his work, Komunyakaa plays with perception and illusion, showing that the memories of the war are still haunting him and interrupting his ability to recognize the correct time and space.

Included as one of his works in Dien Cai Dau, which shows many other faces of the Vietnam War, Komunyakaa’s “Facing It” is the second work shown in Dien Cai Dau, as well as his second work that the poet had finished. In an interview with Muna Asali, Komunyakaa stated, “In fact, I realized about a year after I completed Dien Cai Dau that I had been very lonely in Vietnam. I was even lonely in a crowd, and spent most of my time trying to make sense out of the whole damn thing. I was very conscious of what I was doing and what was happening to me.” Komunyakaa p.77 It is evident that by looking at the first two lines of the piece the theme will be self- identity; we can tell this by the narrators’ description of the black face. The face being the first thing people show to others and themselves it stands that to not know what it looks like means that that person does not know who they are. By hiding the face here in the black granite we see how the narrator has lost both his self-image and his identity. The speaker’s reflection is a haunting reminder of what lies within himself. Thus, the narrator could have just as easily described white skinned person with no face but because he didn’t, one could argue that the narrator like the author is African American. If he were any other color we may have just witnessed the description as a white shape void of facial characteristics. Perhaps it would have been described as not having eyes, a mouth, a nose or even ears.

An introduction to the speaker’s inability to control his grief, and shock when the memories begin to dance in his mind is made during lines three through five. When the speaker refers to himself as well as the image in granite he is being both literal and metaphoric by describing himself flesh and stone at the same time. As an animate object of flesh we see mans’ vulnerability. While being stone suggests that the character is hardening himself against the powerful emotions he feels or being numbed by the loss of his comrades. In lines six through nine the poet further develops the images, eyeing the speaker “like a bird of prey” Komunyakaa 2, the image has now taken on a life of its’ own and become an adversary to taunt the speaker throughout the poem. Being such a dark shadow eludes to the inevitable outcome that the image itself is a dangerous being in itself. Emotions and self-doubt can be more dangerous to a soldier than anything. Designed by Maya Ying Ling, a student of Yale University, the memorial is made in the shape of the letter “v” out of black granite where the names of both missing and dead Americans are posted. Lines ten through thirteen give us an idea of the physical space the speaker is in. When he states that he is inside the wall he means that he is emotional synced to the wall. That he as a veteran who was there with these men, created this wall through their deeds and have now been entered into history, they are integral to each other.

The speaker refers to the 58022 names of both the MIA and POW in lines fourteen through sixteen. The speaker shows his alienation and lifelessness over the losses by half expecting to find his name on that wall. He describes the letters as smoke to show them as transitory and vague just as the embodiment of smoke is. In lines seventeen through twenty-one the narrator Places his hand on a name and experiences painful memories of his past. He is taken back to the death of a fellow soldier and feels as if it’s happening all over again. Rapid shifts in the scenery further underline the speaker’s dream-like state. Much to the comparison of surrealistic art, this state of mind reflects his perception. Through the juxtaposition of unrelated and separate elements, the arts reflected the dream-like quality of mans’ existence.

The “brushstrokes” in lines twenty-two through twenty-four break our narrators dream state and bring him back the awareness of his surroundings. The soldier is no longer staring blankly at the wall while his inner turmoil eats at his guilt and plays on his emotions. There are many variations to the title of this poem and one may see that after finishing it. “Facing It” shows the literal meaning of the soldier staring at himself in the wall. However, by “facing it” one is able to stand up against their fears and confront the issue at hand. As said by Thomas Marvin “As the final line in a volume of poems that assault the reader with all of the folly and horror of war, it does provide a release, a glimpse of the love that sustains the next generation, even if it cannot save them from experiencing war for themselves” Marvin 242. Showing the grotesque nature of war, the wall stands as both a memorial and a reflective spot for those lost and those who lost.

Works Cited
Brown, James W. “Overview: “Facing It”.” Poetry for Students 5 (1999): n. pag. Web. 22 Mar. 2014. Komunykaa, Yusef, and Muna Asali. “An Interview With Yusef komunyakaa.” Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentary 207 (2000): 76-84. Web. 22 Mar. 2014. Marvin, Thomas F. “Komunyakaa’s Facing It.” The Explicator 61.2 (2003): 262. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.

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