Friday, February 4, 2011

The "Cane-lipped" in Georgia Dusk

O singers, resinous and soft your songs M
Above the sacred whisper of the pines, N
Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines, N
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs M

The poem "Georgia Dusk" intrigued me because of the imagery of the "cane-lipped scented mouth" in the second stanza describing "some genius of the South." The concept of the sawmill as representative of the slave trade has already been discussed, but I'd like to examine the development of the "trees as African Americans" metaphor. The "chips and stumps" can possibly be connected to the "vestiges of pomp," the "race memories" the sugarcane workers cling to as their only remnant of their "former domicile." Later, the trees are representative of guitars and their pine needles "fall like sheets of rain." The trees seem to be weeping, and perhaps this is an allusion that the African Americans they represent are also weeping during their sunset caroling. Rain brings freshness and renewal, much like weeping tears from "blood-hot" eyes would bring spiritual renewal and preparation for the onslaught of another day in the sugarcane fields. The "sacred whisper of the pines" are also the "resinous," "soul sounds," and the African Americans share a spiritual connection with them, aware during their forced manual labor that they share a mutual suffering.

"Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines" says the speaker in the last stanza. These "cane-lipped" throngs need virgin lips--or, in other words, emancipation from their labors and the resentment, weariness, and frustration that accompany them. "Virgin lips" has multiple layers of meaning: manifesting desire for literal, physical emancipation, indicating the desire of the singers to sing out their frustrations into the night and find renewal, and the obvious sexual virginity these "cornfield concubines" desire from their husbands, whose demands and treatment are harsh and severe. I found the idea of being "wedded to the cornfield" very potent imagery. But why does Toomer refer to them as "corn"field concubines, instead of "sugar"cane concubines?

1 comment:

  1. I thought this was an interesting interpretation of the last stanza. I also thought your analysis of the "trees" was quite good and I liked how you related the life of a tree to the life of a slave. What I liked most about the tree comparison is that the slave and the tree share a "mutual suffering." I guess I can see this to a certain extent in some cases, however, I think we should also consider the simple difference between humans and nature. Does a tree actually suffer? In some cases yes, but trees are also controlled by the natural environment, whereas slaves were under control of other beings. Like I say, I see the mutual suffering to a certain extent but one thing that I may agree with a little more is the mutual suffering between the slave and "Christ." In the last line, the author basically said "Bring Christ to a crowd of people." It is almost as if the people are looking for a spiritual revival and because Christ suffered and died for us on the cross, maybe they feel they are suffering as he did as well. Anyways, I liked your analysis.