The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Fenton Johnson (1888-1958)

  1. What was Fenton Johnson’s upbringing and occupation?

For what kind of poetry was he noted? When did he publish his chief works?

Which authors may have influenced his style?


  1. What is the poem’s subject? Who is the poem’s “I,” and who is its “you”? What is the term for a poem whose speaker addresses an audience?
  2. What are some advantages of presenting this poem in the voice of a specific speaker?
  3. What are features of the poem’s rhythm and style? How does the poet use line length to enforce his points?
  4. What do we learn about the world of the “tired” speaker and M’Lissy Jane?
  5. Are there elements of humor in the poem? Of exaggeration?
  6. Why does he order that children be thrown into the river? Why does he command, “Pluck the stars out of the heavens.” Are these realistic orders, and if not, why does he give them?
  7. Why is the speaker tired of civilization? What implicit critique of “civilization” does the poem offer?
  8. To what extent do the speaker's remarks seem representative? What makes them so?

“The Scarlet Woman”

  1. What is the speaker’s occupation? Why is this term used for her?
  2. What have been her experiences? Is the reader expected to judge her?
  3. What is the nature of her life? What ironies has she encountered?
  4. Is the poem’s language suitable for its subject? What is the effect of the final two lines? What do we know about "the scarlet woman," her attitudes and emotions?
  5. Do you think this is a good poem?
  6. On the basis of these two poems, how would you describe Johnson’s poetic manner and themes?

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