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Remembering the Past: Poetry Explication of Remember by Joy Harjo

It is very important to remember our heritage, and also to remember where we come from
in order to learn from the past. In learning from the past we can better understand our future and
how to make the most of it. Learning from the past can also help us to rectify any mistakes that
were made in the past so that they are not made again. Remembering is a great tool and is
something that Joy Harjo reminds us to do in her beautiful poem entitled Remember.
Remember is a poem full of images and deeper meanings. Harjo does a wonderful job
of making it a poem that all readers can relate and respond to and not just people from the same
ethnic background as her. It is even a poem that reaches beyond the earth and into the stars in its
message to the reader. One of the main ways that Harjo gets the readers attention is by using
simple, easily understood words in her poem. Using these kinds of words she then makes an
effort to relate the poem to things that all kinds of people have knowledge of. She does this by
using such phrases such as, the sky that you were born under (Harjo line 1), a bar once in
Iowa City (4), Remember your father (11), and Remember the wind (18). All of the images
that these phrases bring to mind are phrases that people of all kinds can share. Everyone lives
under the sky, most people can relate to a bar, many people in this world can remember their
father, and almost everyone in this world has experienced the wind. All of these things, as well as
many of Harjos other phrases; help the reader to be drawn in and to feel connected to the poem,
which leads to a much deeper understanding of the poem.
One of the very important themes in this poem, as mentioned before, is the idea of
remembering. This poem is trying to get the message of remembering your past and not just your
past but the past of generations before you. Harjo wants you to remember and appreciate the
people and creatures that have come before you. She gets us to remember all of these things by
repeating the word remember before she talks about each of the things that she wants us to take
note of. The word remember is repeated in this poem a total of fourteen times in the twenty six

line poem. When Harjo uses this word it is always used at the beginning of a line, so it stars with
an uppercase R. This makes the word stick out in the readers mind, thus making the idea behind
the word also stay with the reader far longer after they have finished reading this poem.
Once we begin to understand the poem we see that it is about being connected to the
world around us. One way that Harjo shows us that we can do this is to just be aware of the
world and remembering that you are a part of something bigger. She tells us this all too important
message by using very rich, yet simple imagery. One such line that represents this is, Remember
the suns birth at dawn, that is the/strongest point of time. Remember sundown/and the giving
away to night (Harjo 5-7). Just by reading this section of the poem Harjo gives the reader this
image of the rising sun. She connects the reader, not only to the earth, but to the multitude of
readers who have ever read this poem. She creates a scene that is so peaceful and yet so powerful
since if we have nothing else in common we have this amazing world that we live in and all call
home. Another line that she does this is: Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have
their/tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,/Listen to them. They are alive
poems (Harjo 15-17). Here again, Harjo is trying to show the reader that all of the creatures and
beings of the earth are very similar and not nearly as different as we make them out to be. All of
these things come to life, such as when she talks about how they are poems. This line makes you
feel connected to them and at peace with them. These organisms may look so different from us
on the outside, but they still have a past, the same as anything else on this earth, which unites us
all in a very global way.
The way that Harjo specifically gives us the images of these beings and helps the reader
to become connected to them is by her use of nouns. She uses nouns all throughout her poem to
help give us the vision that she wants us to see. Nouns are very specific words. They come with
pre-programmed images. By using nouns such as sun, plant, tree, animal, and dawn, Harjo is

stating her idea in a very simple way and getting the image from her head to the readers head in
a fast and precise way. This way of doing things helps us to better remember the underlying
message of the poem rather than if Harjo had covered the noun up in pretty adjectives. If it was
drowned in adjectives, we would think only of the beauty of that image and not of that image
itself and the message and the being behind it.
The message of the importance of the past is one that we have discussed quite a bit thus
far, but Harjo also is concerned with the future in the poem. In particular, she is concerned about
how the past and the present come together to create our future. She makes a point to say that we
are very connected to the people of the past. All that has happened allows us to learn and grow
from it. We move on from the past into the future. Harjo shows us this with her last few lines:
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.
Remember. (21-26)
As you can see, these few lines reflect what Harjo is telling us with her words. Her lines are
getting shorter and shorter as she wants you to move on into the future. At the same time, she
keeps repeating the word Remember because she wants you to remember the lessons that she
has attempted to teach you. The chanting rhythm of this poem, especially these last lines, also
help with the message that Harjo is trying to get across. The words talk about growing and
motion, and that is the feeling that you get when you read this part, which reinforces the message
in our minds and makes us remember it even more.
Remember is a poem that speaks to many different people of a lesson that we can all
take to heart. It is a poem that gives feelings of connectedness, growth, nature, and peace in just a
few short, and easy to understand lines. There are no fancy words that leave the reader scratching
their head and wracking their brain. Instead, it leaves them with a sense of peace and
connectedness with the world around them. While digging deep reveals hidden meaning, its

simplicity shows its pure, raw beauty and the meaningful lessons that can be taken away from it,
such as the power of remembering the past.

Works Cited
Harjo, Joy. Remember. Webtexts. Virginia Commonwealth University. n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.