Poem: “Georgia Dusk: by Jean Toomer

0 Posted by - September 2, 2020 - LATEST POSTS

Jean Toomer was an African American poet and novelist commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though he actively resisted the association, and modernism.

Nathan Pinchback Toomer, who adopted the name Jean Toomer early in his literary career, was born in Washington, D.C. in 1894. His father Nathan Toomer (1839-1906) was a mixed-race freedman, born into slavery in 1839 in Chatham County, North Carolina. He, his mother Kit and siblings were sold to John Toomer in Houston County; after his death, they were bought in 1859 from the estate by John’s brother Col. Henry Toomer.

Between 1914 and 1917, Toomer attended six institutions of higher education (the University of Wisconsin, the Massachusetts College of Agriculture, the American College of Physical Training in Chicago, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the City College of New York) studying agriculture, fitness, biology, sociology, and history, but he never completed a degree.

n 1923, Toomer published the High Modernist novel Cane, in which he used a variety of forms and material inspired by his time in Georgia. It was also an “analysis of class and caste”, with “secrecy and miscegenation as major themes of the first section.” His last literary work published during his lifetime was Blue Meridian, a long poem extolling “the potential of the American race”. He stopped writing for publication after 1950.

 

Georgia Dusk

By Jean Toomer
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,
A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
   An orgy for some genius of the South
   With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.
The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
   And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
   Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.
Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
   Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
   Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
   Race memories of king and caravan,
   High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.
Their voices rise . . the pine trees are guitars,
   Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . .
   Their voices rise . . the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars . .
O singers, resinous and soft your songs
   Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
   Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.
source:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46407/georgia-dusk

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