A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Author:Marilyn Nelson [Nelson, Marilyn]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Sonnet Notes


This sonnet alludes to act iv, scene v of Shakespeare's Hamlet, when Ophelia, driven mad by grief for her murdered father, says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. That's for thoughts." The idea of a language of flowers is an ancient tradition.


This sonnet alludes first to an earlier poem, "The Haunted Oak," by Paul Laurence Dunbar. In Dunbar's poem, an oak tree describes a lynching. The second allusion is to "Strange Fruit," a poem about lynching written by Lewis Allen and made famous as a song by the great blues singer Billie Holiday. Dendrochronology is the science of telling a tree's age by counting the rings in its trunk.


In this sonnet the tree speaks, describing its long life of witnessing natural deaths and killings, and the one unnatural killing, which was so horrible that it made part of the tree die.


This sonnet takes us back to the human voice of the poet. Emmett Till was a stutterer; his mother had encouraged him to whistle when he could not get a word out. He was lynched because a white woman in Money, Mississippi, said he had whistled at her.

The White Sox were one of the two major league baseball teams based in Chicago in the 1950s. Because the White Sox home field was on the south side of the city, near the area where most of the African-Americans in Chicago lived, most of them were White Sox fans. If Emmett Till was a baseball fan, he would probably have wanted to wear a White Sox cap.


This sonnet compares the pain of Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, to the pain of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is also known to Christians as "the Mother of Sorrows." Mary was "proclaimed blest" by the angel who came to her at the Annunciation, when she was pregnant, and said, "Hail, Mary, Mother of God. Blessed art thou among women." Mamie Till Mobley insisted that her son should lie in an open casket so the world could see how savagely he had been murdered. His naked body was horribly mangled, his nose severed, his head cleaved nearly in two, one eye gouged out. For the rest of her life, Emmett's mother was an activist for civil rights. She died in 2003 at the age of eighty-one.


Some scientists now believe that there may be an infinite number of parallel universes and that we just hap pen to live in one of them. Superstring theory, hyperspace, and dark matter made physicists realize that the three dimensions they had thought described the universe weren't enough. There are actually eleven dimensions. Some physicists now think that our universe may be just one "bubble" among an infinite number of "bubbles" that ripple as they wobble through the eleventh dimension. The universes parallel to ours contain space, time, and matter. Some of them may even contain us, in a slightly different form. Science-fiction writers have enjoyed speculating about what a parallel universe might be like.


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