Bruce Seaton
ENGL 300- Prof. Yates
Short Essay 1

The highway is full of big cars
going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that'll burn
Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass
And you sit wondering
where you're going to turn.
I got it.
Come. And be my baby.

Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow
But others say we've got a week or two
The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror
And you sit wondering
what you're gonna do.
I got it.
Come. And be my baby.

Maya Angelou’s “Come. And be my baby” is a song of tranquility in the face of the crushing feeling of futility in modern life, directed to all people, but written specifically to those of the African-American community. It is an intimate piece, written from the perspective of one person to another, to one who is clearly overwhelmed by the struggles of everyday life. Angelou suggests that when life becomes a nightmare, we should take a step back, take a break, and give ourselves time to think.

The poem consists of two stanzas with very similar structures. If the first two lines of the first stanza, “The highway is full of big cars/ going nowhere fast,” were combined into one line, the two stanzas would be nearly identical in structure. Each stanza contains one rhyming pair (burn/turn in the first and two/do in the second), and both stanzas end with the lines “I got it./ Come. And be my baby.”

Each stanza can be broken into three sections: the “they” section, which consists of four lines in the first stanza, and three lines in the second; the “you” section, which consists of the next two lines in both cases; and the “me” section, which closes each stanza.

The “they” sections are descriptions of the world going on outside, each of which uses metaphor to convey the same feeling twice. In the first stanza, the “highway full of big cars” is a metaphor for the people “smoking anything that will burn” and “wrapping their lives around a cocktail glass.” Both images convey a feeling of stagnation and inability to proceed with life. These people aren’t just drinking a great deal- their very purpose has become to drink or smoke. In the second stanza, the “prophets” and “papers” (linked phonetically as well as metaphorically) are both articulating the evils of the world and the doom we live. The third line of this stanza also includes the only metaphor that suggests life in the poem: that of the “blooming horror.” It is as if the world has become so rotten that only the horrible can flourish here.

The “you” sections of the stanzas are very similar, changing only the words in the second line necessary to rhyme with the middle line of the “they” section, thus tying the two sections of each stanza into one idea. The sections are further bound together in that there is no punctuation to suggest a pause until the end of the “you” section in either case. The “you” section is therefore a reaction by the “you” figure to the “they” section.

The “me” section is Angelou’s solution to the crushing weight of reality. In the last two short lines of each stanza there are three periods, in contrast to the much longer leading section, which only contains one. Suddenly the pace of the poem slows immensely. The speaker is inciting the reader to calm down, to take life one step at a time. The phrase “I got it” is ambiguous, but could suggest “I have the answer,” or “I have what you need.” In the final line of each stanza, “Come” could well mean to “come away” from the brutal realities of life. The final words “be my baby” are composed of soft sounds, warm, rich, voiced bilabial sounds, almost like kisses. Clearly there is a feeling of intimacy here that stretches beyond the mere meanings of the words. This intimacy suggests that what makes slowing down and stepping back from the world work, is that it allows time for things like love. Perhaps, then, love, or at least tenderness, is the answer that Angelou has “got.”

The speaker (and most likely the target audience) of the poem can be identified as African-American by the use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), which allows for phrases such as “folks is smoking” and “I got it.” Her use of AAVE is not, however, such that the meaning of the poem is in any way blurred, or that it would turn away an audience unfamiliar or unhappy with its use.

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