What was Fenton Johnson’s upbringing and occupation? For what kind of poetry was he noted? When did he publish his chief works?

Which authors may have influenced his style?


  1. What is the poem’s subject? Who is the poem’s “I,” and who is its “you”? What is the term for a poem whose speaker addresses an audience?
  2. What are some advantages of presenting this poem in the voice of a specific speaker?
  3. What are features of the poem’s rhythm and style? How does the poet use line length to enforce his points? To what extent does the poem read like ordinary speech, and if so, what is the effect of this?
  4. What do we learn about the world of the “tired” speaker and M’Lissy Jane? What kind of job does he likely perform? How are his and her worlds different?
  5. What does the speaker imply is his wife's opinion of him? What is his attitude toward his situation? Toward the future?
  6. Are there elements of humor in the poem? Of exaggeration? Does the poem play to stereotypes?
  7. To what extent is the poet sympathetic to the speaker?
  8. Why does he order that children be thrown into the river? Why does he command, “Pluck the stars out of the heavens.” Are these realistic orders, and if not, why does he give them?
  9. Why is the speaker tired of civilization? What implicit critique of “civilization” does the poem offer?
  10. To what extent do the speaker's remarks seem representative? What makes them so?
    11. What makes this a poem rather than merely a transcription of someone's angry speech at the end of a hard day?

“The Scarlet Woman”

  1. What is the speaker’s occupation? Why is this term used for her?
  2. What have been her experiences? Is the reader expected to judge her?
  3. What is the nature of her life? What ironies has she encountered?
  4. Is the poem’s language suitable for its subject? What is the effect of the final two lines? What do we know about "the scarlet woman," her attitudes and emotions?
  5. Do you think this is a good poem?
  6. On the basis of these two poems, how would you describe Johnson’s poetic manner and themes?