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“Won’t You Celebrate With Me” by Lucille Clifton

Won’t You Celebrate With Me: Poem Analysis

The poem “Won’t You Celebrate With Me” by Lucille Clifton is a unique masterpiece of rare quality. The fourteen lines carry a deep meaning that transcends all differences which people seem to have and hits a reader right into the very core of his or her being. There is no doubt the poem is capable of finding the response in the hearts of individuals of different gender, ages, races, a level of education, social status, and so on. Based on this feature, it is possible to say that the poem mirrors profound wisdom, ethical values, and sophisticated intelligence of its creator who, being an African American woman raised and lived in times of social turbulences and disparities, managed to keep a humanistic attitude and stay true to herself despite all life challenges.

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“won’t you celebrate with me

what I have shaped into

a kind of life? I had no model” (Clifton, 1993, p. 25).

Clifton starts the poem with a hint of irony. She calls readers to celebrate, yet the object of celebration is somewhat uncertain. She maybe talks about life that is far from ideal, not the one which people usually wish to have. However, this life is self-affirmative and real. She built it with her own hands without relying on any examples. The author does not call readers for celebrating success, wealth, or any lightness of being, but rather praises interior human dignity.

“born in Babylon

both nonwhite and woman

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what did I see to be except myself?

I made it up” (Clifton, 1993, p. 25).

The quatrain has several significant implications. Clifton references Babylon, an ancient city frequently mentioned in historical and biblical texts, in an allegorical meaning. The name of the city, Babylon, is often used as an eschatological symbol denoting prosperous and well-developed yet immoral civilization and way of living. From the perspective of Rastafarianism and Christianity, it is a symbol of the enslaving power and the system that suppresses people. Readers may see that the narrator is detached from the city and everything associated with it. Clifton emphasizes the insignificance of the artificial and unnatural system in which the majority of people live. Babylon has a lower value than self; it provides no meaningful examples to follow or role models. Moreover, she indicates the misrepresentation of women and minor racial groups in society. The poet refuses to accept the ideals proclaimed by other people with whom she has no affinity. Maybe this inability to find someone to relate to is the reason she chose to create life according to her own beliefs.

“here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand” (Clifton, 1993, p. 25).

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The bridge is the metaphor of a point between unreachable ideals and things without a discernible meaning. Here we can find a reference to John Keats’ lines:

“Adieu! for once again the fierce dispute,

Betwixt damnation and impassion’d clay

Must I burn through” (Keats, 2017, para. 1).

“Impassioned clay” is the form without any purpose or value, a meaningless thing. This capacious metaphor can be used to denote the pointless and routine activities which people almost automatically and unconsciously perform every day. It even may be regarded as a symbol of a modern forcefully and artificially constructed personality, or widely promoted values that are divorced from reality. The narrator moves away from these empty forms towards the light, the truth, but the star shine is unreachable. She is alone in this way, and there is no one to lean on except herself.

“come celebrate

with me that every day

something has tried to kill me

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and has failed” (Clifton, 1993, p. 25).

It is possible to say that the call for celebration is meant to create a greater feeling of relatedness in readers to the experiences described in the poem. Every single person once in a while comes through difficult times, faces problems, small misfortunes, or great sorrows. However, steadfastness and movement are two basic qualities of life, and the persistence in front of various challenges is an important element of human dignity.

In “Won’t You Celebrate With Me,” Lucille Clifton sings praises of human dignity, innate value, and significance. She points to the idea that it is natural for a person to long for truth and light, be independent, and free. She also perfectly represents the power of belief in oneself, love to self, and truth. This poem is not about a woman or a representative of the African American community, or the society as a whole; the major idea embraced in it is very subtle, and it is almost beyond the grasp. The poem is not sentimental at all – the balance between the intellectual and emotional levels is right on the spot. It may be said that the poem has a spiritual quality expressed in a concise and beautiful form created as a result of a high level of Lucille Clifton’s poetic sensitivity and skillfulness.


Clifton, L. (1993). The book of light. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press.

Keats, J. (2017). On sitting down to read King Lear once again. Web.

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