The speaker of “On the Pulse of Morning” uses personification to give a human voice to three nonhuman entities. The speaker refers to these entities as the Rock, the River, and the Tree. They address the reader in turn, each one inviting us readers to imagine a better future for ourselves. The Rock, for instance, “cries out to us, clearly, forcefully” (line 9), telling us to rise out of the “bruising darkness” (line 16) of our longstanding ignorance. Likewise, the River calls for us to relinquish our greed and the violence of competition that comes with it. Finally, the Tree invites us to the riverside, telling us that no matter the circumstances that brought us here, “[our] passages have been paid” (line 71), and we should root ourselves in the land. Although the speaker personifies each of these three entities individually, the overall effect is not to give distinct voices to particular nonhumans. Instead, the speaker uses three generalized natural entities to stand in for the land as a whole. Put differently, the speaker doesn’t just personify a rock, a river, and a tree. Rather, they personify the entire landmass currently known as the United States.


The speaker of “On the Pulse of Morning” uses asyndeton to create strong rhetorical effects. The term asyndeton (ay-SIN-deh-tahn) is Greek for “unconnected,” and it refers to a technique that involves the omission of conjunctions between words, clauses, or phrases. This kind of omission has a shortening effect, and it conveys emphasis through concision. As an example, consider these lines from the ninth stanza (lines 64–66):

     You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
     Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
     Praying for a dream.

Note the lack of connecting words in this quotation. In standard English, we might expect to see the conjunction “and” in the first line: “You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, [and] the Kru.” But notice how the addition of “and” here would unnecessarily interrupt the pointed rhythm of the line. A similar issue exists for the omission of the auxiliary verb “were”: “You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, [and] the Kru, [were] bought.” Once again, the addition unnecessarily extends the line. Finally, consider how different the rhetorical effect would be had the speaker added the conjunction “and” between the second and third lines: “arriving on the nightmare [and] / Praying for a dream.” The addition of “and” here would have prevented the brief pause between the lines, subtly defusing the power of the implied punctuation.


Enumeration—which is sometimes referred to by its Latin name, enumeratio—is a rhetorical technique that involves the listing of details. Through the listing of details, enumeration creates an amplifying effect that expands and enriches whatever issue or matter is under discussion. Enumeration can take numerous forms and have different kinds of effects. In “On the Pulse of Morning,” Angelou uses a straightforward form of enumeration to evoke a spirit of radical inclusion. Consider, for example, the seventh stanza, most of which consists of a list of different groups of people who might heed the call of the River and the Rock:

     There is a true yearning to respond to
     The singing River and the wise Rock.
     So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
     The African, the Native American, the Sioux,
     The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
     The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,
     The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
     The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
     They hear. They all hear.

Of the nine lines quoted here (lines 41–49), a full six consist solely of a list of different groups of people. Admittedly, a list this long still isn’t long enough to name every type of person who lives in the United States. However, the amplifying effect of such a long list is powerful enough to give a rhetorical suggestion of radical inclusiveness. When Angelou uses enumeration elsewhere in the poem, she does so to similar effect.