“The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson is subtitled “A Negro Sermon.” Published in 1920, Johnson intended for the poem’s speaker to sound like a Southern, Black preacher speaking as though he were God. In the poem, the speaker embellishes the first twenty-five verses from the book of Genesis.
The narration of the poem is third person point of view with the speaker looking through the eyes of God. The poet gives God human qualities to accentuate the reasons for the creation and how it was performed.
The poem is written in free verse. The images that it brings to the creation story fuse together the black, idiomatic language and the oratorical power of the African-American sermons. Johnson was intent on not perpetuationg the stereotypical views of the black man. Therefore, his language is powerful and expressive.
The descriptions of God and the metaphorical comparisons place God in his all-powerful position but also humanize him as well. The qualities of God are expressed throughout the poem:
1st and 2nd Stanzas
God steps out into space. [What an interesting way to begin to show that what man has done, God did first!]
He is lonely and so he creates a world. To make the process more visual and memorable, the poet presents a God who walks and talks just as he eventually creates man to do.
The darkness that Genesis describes becomes a metaphor in the poem: “blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.” Now, the reader can understand the depth of the blackness.
3rd and 4th Stanzas
When God smiles, the world lights up. The poet creates an impression of the light being made into the parting of the Red Sea by Moses.
And the light broke
And the darkness rolled up on one side
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: “That’s good!”
God shapes the sun out of light that he gathers and flings into the sky. The light that was left he uses to create the moon and the stars.
5th and 6th Stanzas
God walks on the earth and creates the valleys and the mountains with his feet as he hollows and bulges.
The world looks barren to God. He vividly spits out the seven seas. He bats his eyes and lightning flashes; and he claps his hands and thunder rolls and the rain pours out of the sky.
7th and 8th Stanzas
More and more of the beauty of the earth come from God. The oak tree spreads out through his arms. The pine tree points from the tip of his mighty finger. The rainbow curls around his shoulders.
Then the animals begin to come; they are faster than God can drop his hand. Again God states: “That’s good!”
9th and 10th Stanzas
God looks around at the beauty of the earth and its animals. He looks at the sun and the heavenly orbs. He admits that he is still lonely. Just as man might, God sits down by the river and places his head in his hands and thinks.
11th and 12th Stanzas
God realizes that he needs a companion on earth. He will make a man. He scoops up the clay by the river, kneels down. The almighty God who has made everything on earth lovingly molds the man in his hands. The simile creates the picture of a mother bending over her child.
Then God blows the breath of life into his creation. And man became a living breathing soul.
The poet creates a kind, gentle God who proudly affixes the heavens, the earth, and the animals who live there. He is most proud of his last creation, and the one who he hopes will keep from his loneliness: man.