I Give You Back by Joy Harjo

I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.

You are not my blood anymore.

I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my house, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.

I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.

I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you

I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.

to be loved, to be loved, fear.

Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid
of dying.

Summary and Analysis

Lines 1 to 7

The lines above are a testimony of a poet who is speaking against the injustice perpetrated on her tribe by the colonial power and an artist who has overcome fear in order to speak truth. The personification of fear “beloved and hated twin” as an addressee is compact with the idea of heart and humanity. The polarization of self and fear, “You are not my blood anymore.” harkens to the conscious which is despondent because of the increasing poverty and crimes by children of God against one another.

8 to 15

The narrator challenges the self and appreciates it for its determination by acknowledging the “eyes that can never close”. The eye here is grieving the history of subjugation “who stole the food from our plates when we were starving” and is imbued with the feeling of elation by releasing the fear and scenes that are grievous and heinous. The eye and I of the narrator are a promissory note to the indigenous tribes.

Lines 16 to 28

The repetition of “I release you”, “I am not afraid” and “to be loved” gives the poem its aesthetic quality of classical enunciation. The specificities brought in through adjectives such as angry, hungry, white, black, full and loved are juxtaposed with a verb rejoice which speaks of carpe diem as well as a wakeful awareness of ethical codes which are independent of fear.

Lines 29 to 40

The poem ends with an enjambment where the narrator repeats “my heart” consecutively charting an imagery of renunciation of fear that the narrator senses is “so afraid of dying”. Fear has been expelled from narrator’s self who claims to “take herself back”. The narrator understands the “shadow” of fear is no more than an illusionary idea which has gripped her soul because she gave fear the leash over herself. The narrative also is an internal monologue of an artist who is penning down a eulogy for her indigenous elders. The realization of having a sense of coherency between the heart and mind impregnates the poem with a sense of triumph and exuberance.

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