‘Harlem Hopscotch’ written by Maya Angelou was published in 1969 and it draws a parallel between the life of the blacks in Harlem and the hopscotch game. Both are a struggle; the game is a struggle for winning while the other is the struggle to subsist.
About the Poet
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28 2014) received the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community. Her contribution to the literary community was huge. Marguerite Annie Johnson was an American poet and writer. She published three books of essays, seven autobiographies and several books on poetry. She has also acted in movies and plays and was a part of television shows. Her career spanned for over 50 years. She died at the age of 86.
‘Harlem Hopscotch’ is a poem that compares the game hopscotch and the life of the African Americans in Harlem. In the first four lines she talks about the rules of the game. She speaks about the moves where the player has to hop - sometimes to the left, then a jump. In between these lines she says that it’s the ‘ones that’s got’, enjoy good things. She ends this stanza by stating that in this game each one is to himself. In the same manner in life too each is to his own and will have to live their individual life. In the second stanza she says that if both feet go down you are out of the game. She then compared it to the plight of African Americans. Since they were black, they were not allowed to ‘stick around’. Their food was gone and had to pay the rent that was due. Nothing much could be done except curse and cry but they had to go on with their lives indicated by the words ‘and then jump two.’ In the third stanza she continues with the lot of the Africans Americans. They don’t have jobs and they could not rebel, ‘cross the line’. If they crossed the line they were considered an outcast. Just like in the game, you cannot cross the line. Now the game hopscotch was all about hopping. Life in Harlem was all about hopping around in the limited space given, without crossing lines. Finally she tells if both feet are on the ground then you are lost. That was rule of the game but in life if both feet are grounded it is winning.
The poem ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ has fourteen lines split into four stanzas. The rhyme scheme is AA, BB, CC, DD, EE, FF, and GG. BB is a slant rhyme. Though there are three stanzas of four lines the original structure of poem is couplet. Most lines have seven syllables except for two. The theme of the poem is that you don’t have to be really rich to be happy. The imagery used in the poem is that of hopscotch and it is beautifully connected to the lives of people in Harlem. The poem ends on a positive note. It tells ‘They think I lost. I think I won’ and this is the most important line in the poem. Till now the poem was addressed in the third person and it is only in the last line the first person is used and this change in the tone gives a punch to the last lines. Shelly had said that “poetry is timeless” and this proves true for the poem of Maya Angelou ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ as the situation has not changed much even today.