cover image for Remember poem featuring American poet Joy Harjo

Remember by Joy Harjo: Detailed Analysis and Meaning

“Remember” is a poem by Joy Harjo that goes against all the established guidelines of poetry. The line breaks are irregular, uncertain, and there is no division with stanzas. We can’t really call it a song either. So what is it? 

This beautiful poem by the American poet is a gentle reminder to the people who have their eyes opened, but cannot see. It is for the people who have active hearing but they fail to hear. 

Let’s take a look at the meaning of this poem and what the poet is trying to convey to the readers. 

Remember

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
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.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.
-Joy Harjo

Summary and Meaning

The poem is meant to be read without any pauses or gaps. But for the purpose of this article, let’s break it down into different components and see what they mean in detail. We’ll divide the poem into four parts. 

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

The first part is about reminding the readers about all the heavenly bodies that are above us in the sky. From the stars, moon, to the sun. Remember that these heavenly bodies with sizes beyond our imagination were there, witnessing your birth.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

After remembering these grand things, remember your mother and father, and how they gave you life. The struggles of childbirth your mother went through to bring you into this world. Not just that, but your birth and your life is also the evidence of her life. 

Your father is your life as well. It is their life forces that created you. Remember how astonishing and awe-inspiring these things are, how awe-inspiring creation and life is. Every little thing that we take for granted is something wonderful. 

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

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.

Once the readers are reminded of the stars, moon, sun, parents, then they need to remember the community they live in, surrounded by the people. A beautiful way Joy Harjo has described the people on earth is by saying we are the skin of earth. 

The skin of earth does not have one color. It is made of colors like red, black, yellow, white, and brown, representing every race on this planet. But not just that, this skin is also made of plants, trees, and animals.

Every single living being on this planet has their tribes, families, histories. They are all living poems that have their stories to share. The world is far more complicated than what people think, and far more beautiful than what people see with their myopic eyes. 

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

The last stanza or part of the poem is connecting you with the metaphysical parts of the universe. The poem established the connection between a person and the heavenly bodies, their parents, and all the living things around them.

But the last stanza shows the significance of the elements of the universe. From the wind that knows the origin of the universe to the motion, growth which represents time, everything is deeply connected to you. 

“You are this universe and this universe is you” is a powerful line that makes us realize that we are not living in this universe, but we are the universe. The final lines tell us to remember everything that we have seemed to have forgotten.  

Essence of the Poem

“Remember” poem serves two purposes; the first is that it establishes connection between an individual and all the other parts of this universe. It establishes human connection, connection with life, heavenly bodies, winds, time, and the universe. 

The second purpose is it makes us realize the significance we hold. Do not think of yourself as someone who does not matter. Think of all the connections you have to everything so significant. 

Each breath you take in, value it, and every time you look around remember the connection you have with every living and non-living thing. You are not a part of the universe, you are the universe. You are the universe’s way of experiencing itself. 

Literary Devices 

The literary devices used in the poem Remember by Joy Harjo are:

Alliteration– The poet has used Alliteration throughout the poem, for example:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.

Remember you are all people and all people
are you.

Anaphora– Anaphora is a literary devices in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words. For example:

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Repetition- The poet has used repetition throughout the poem to emphasize and mark the importance of the words. For example: “Remember”, “the”, “people”, “universe”, and “earth”

Antimetabole– Antimetabole is a literary device in which a phrase is repeated but with the order of the words reversed. For example:

Remember you are all people and all people
are you.

Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.

Enjambment– A few examples of enjambment from the poem are:

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

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