Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Georgia Dusk: Beauty and Sadness

The poem Georgia Dusk describes dusk, on what I assume to be an average evening in Georgia.

“The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
The setting sun, too indolent to hold
A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night’s barbecue”

This passage is undeniably beautiful, imparting the feeling of nostalgia as well as the slow lethargy of a day ending. Yet with the final line, “night’s barbecue”, Toomer alludes to an idea that although the sun is set the day is not yet done. In the next stanza he gives me the feeling of some revelry, of feast and song: “…making folk-songs from soul sounds.” The third stanza again speaks of a work day coming to an end with “The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop, And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill.” In the next two lines, even the land comes to rest and relax after a hard day’s work.

With the fourth stanza Toomer transitions from beautiful imagery to a degree of sadness by speaking of “smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile” and “blue ghosts”; by speaking of the “chips and stumps” as the only proof of the forest that once stood there. After reading the rest of the poem the meaning of this stanza becomes clear. The “chips and stumps” are the poor African-American people, who are now mere shadows of their once proud heritage: “Race memories of king and caravan, High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man.” The feeling of sadness continues through the rest of the poem with lines like “Their voices rise… the chorus of the cane Is caroling a vesper to the stars”.

At the end of the poem, I am left with an extraordinary sadness but at the same time hope.



  1. Arjun, you do a really nice job of showing the progression and tone of the poem from beginning to end. I like your interpretation of the "night's barbecue" as referring to a night that is just beginning. There also seems to be a very strong and depressing feeling coming from the author's words. The author seems to show his emotion as each progressing stanza appears on the page. I feel the pain of the Africans who are, as you said, "mere shadows of their once proud heritage." I agree with that statement and i think you have done a great job of highlighting the authors ability to write this emotionally enriched poem.

  2. Arjun, I share your interest in Georgia Dust, and I would very much like for you to comment on my interpretation of the fourth and fifth stanzas. Because of my interest though, I was hoping that you would expand upon your concluding remarkes of 'extraordinary sadness' and 'hope'. To me, it seems that those are two emotions which are rather opposite of each other, and I am hoping you will share your insight. While I can appreciate the sense of hope in the last stanza, I am much more interested in your perception of sadness.

  3. You mentioned "hope" as you finished reading the poem, and I think the last stanza speaks to that emotion.

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

    The dusk seems to bring about a restoration, and it erases the present. The "cornfield concubines" are given "virgin lips." They've sung this song before, but tonight, they're singing like they never have before. And tomorrow, they'll do it again. And, in circumstances which would give anyone an excuse for a lack of belief--in God and in a greater sense of justice--the songs bring "dreams of Christ." A concept of hope, indeed.