What does the line "Pastoral Scene of the gallant south" in Lewis Allan's "Strange Fruit" poem mean?
This poem was written in the 1930s as a protest again the lynching of black men in the American South. In the second verse, we see that “The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth” of a body hanging in a poplar tree is a “pastoral scene of the gallant South.” This is an ironic description, heavy with sarcasm and yet revealing of the cultural climate of the day. Here Allan is indicating that this practice of killing African-Americans and stringing them up in trees was an undeniable contour of the landscape of the South at that time, and any gallant Southern traditions – those famous Southern manners, the dignified rural plantation life – all of it boiled down to and was overshadowed by these lynchings. This horrible discrimination was as much a part of Southern cultural identity as the “pastoral scenes” and gallantry associated with the region. And by comparing the dead men in the tree to fruit, Lewis implies that these hate crimes are the direct result of seeds sown within the Southern culture, a culture that could somehow turn a blind eye to this sort of discriminatory violence while at the same time laud itself for the beauty of the its nature and the cultivation of its people.
This line is meant to be a highly ironic criticism of the gap between the South's perception of its own culture and the reality of that culture.
This poem is about lynching. Lynching was the practice of killing black men through mob violence. The men, dangling from the trees where they were hung, are the "strange fruit."
In the line you cite, Allan is alluding to the South's view of itself as a place of gallantry. Southerners saw themselves as having better manners and a more romantic and sensitive culture than the money-obsessed North. They saw their region as a bucolic and idyllic place of fields and forests, unlike the slums of Northern cities. Allan is mocking this view of the South. He is contrasting this idealized view of the South with the reality in which there is "strange fruit" hanging from the trees.