Assess the emotional value of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Go Down, Moses."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fact that both songs are spirituals sung by those who experienced the horrors of slavery represents emotional weight. In reading the text of each song, one recognizes that these are not songs as much as pleas to the divine for deliverance and for salvation.  In this, there is an extreme amount of emotional weight and emotional content present.

One of the most distinct emotions that can be seen in both songs is sadness.  There is a condition of unmistakable pain intrinsic to both songs. Verses such as "Comin' for to carry me home" and "Oppressed so hard they could not stand," feature an emotional experience of pain and suffering are evident.  The need to be carried "home" and the condition of oppression help to relay this emotional condition of hurt and pain.  When seen in the light of the horrors of slavery, this becomes understood to an unimaginable degree.  The verses bring to light that what we think we know about slavery, what we think we can envision, is only a fraction of what was actually experienced.  The song verses help to illuminate such an emotional reality.

Another distinct emotion that is evident in both songs is a resistance that speaks to the condition of perseverance that so many slaves had to appropriate in order to survive.  Consider lines such as "A band of angels comin' after me," and "Tell all my friends I'm comin' too," as well as "Let my people go" as examples of the emotional quality of resistance.  In both spirituals, sadness is met with resistance.  These verses of defiance speak to how slaves identified with something larger that would not be denied by the condition of enslavement.  Solidarity, faith in the external salvation, and the notion of something better than what exists around them are emotional implications of such lines.  There is a quality of resistance in both songs, almost as if to counter the evils being perpetrated.  This emotional aspect of resistance reveals that many slaves understood slavery as a physical condition, unable to touch the inner resolve of self.  In this emotional condition, one begins to understand the emotional complexity within slavery.