Liberia’s Response to Hegel

When the question is “what did you find most confusing about this poem?”, I imagine most of us could come up with more than just one line. One line I was particularly confused by was “Liberia? No oil-boiled Barabas, No Darwin’s bulldog for ermined flesh, no braggart Lamech, no bema’s Ananias…” Even after reading the analysis at the end, and doing some google searches of my own, I cannot seem to figure out this statement. “Oil-boiled Barabas” was a man in the bible, killed by oil. “Darwin’s bulldog” refers to Thomas Huxley, an English biologist who supported Darwin’s theory of evolution. “Ermined flesh”, on the other hand, refers to the fur of a weasel. Lamech is a descendent of Cain, the biblical figure who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. Ananias was a member of the early Christian church in Jerusalem, and a bema is the altar area in an Orthodox church. While I gathered all these definitions, I still cannot figure out what the author is saying.

Not many stanzas made complete sense to me, but there were a few. For example: “…You are American genius uncrowned in Europe’s charnel-house. Leave fleshpots for the dogs and apes…” After reading the notes on the back of the packet, I feel I understood these lines pretty well. They could present an alternative to Hegel’s piece we discussed last week, which tries to argue that black people are naturally less civilized than Europeans. When compared with the notes, the first sentence shows that “American genius” is different from any other kind. It is formed through hard work, turmoil, and difficulty, rather than the civilized ‘kingdom built on corpses” of Europe (the charnel-house). The image of American genius in the notes specifically depicts a black soldier, as well. “Fleshpots” are defined as “places providing hedonistic living”. This overall statement could be an encouragement to leave the luxurious life to “the dogs and apes”, and to instead take on a hard work ethic, both from American and Black culture. Referring to Europeans as dogs and apes when they are commonly seen as the most highly civilized is also somewhat ironic. This shows a preference to the American lifestyle, while additionally illustrating Liberia as more civilized in its own right.


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