You're right about the passage coming from the poet's memory, but I see a connection. He introduces the idea that we better realize the ubiquity of agony in life by seeing it in others' lives. The line "Time the destroyer is time the preserver" follows just after this explanation, as if it were a conjunctive thought. And to illustrate this reality about time (it destroys and then preserves the record of that destruction), he picks three metaphors. So he is speaking from his memory, but isn't he choosing events that he believes to be typical of the agonies of others? Perhaps I'm missing something that you're getting.
I also agree with your last thought here, Carrol, but I suppose I see those things (chicken coops, cows) more as context that speaks to the "Negroes'" tragedy. I would be interested in an interpretation that accounts for an equal significance for all three elements of the line.
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But I'm still skeptical of any link between the river's action here and
things "done to others' harm." That passage applies not to the world
"out there" but to the poet's own memories. It is self-criticism (or at
least self-centered). The memories are the poet's memories of his own
life and its twists and turns. He is carrying a cargo of unappeasable
Also your construal of the line could account for "dead Negroes," but
then you ignore the chicken coops and cows.