The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

“Georgia Dusk” is a short poem of twenty-eight lines divided into seven stanzas. The basic rhythm is iambic pentameter; in each stanza, the first and fourth and the second and third lines rhyme (abba, cddc). The title establishes a specific time of day and geographical location. In the poem, Toomer presents the emotions evoked by the end of a day in the Deep South.

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Jean Toomer begins with the sky, herald of sunset. As he paints a picture of the colorful sky, he creates a mood. The sky is too lazy and passive to prolong the splendid sunset. The reader is encouraged to adopt a similar mood, one that is receptive to the sequence of emotions presented by the poem.

The last word of stanza 1 announces the special event of this night, a “barbeque.” With this announcement, the mood shifts in the second stanza from indolence and passivity to song and activity. Toomer indicates that the activity is secret and at least partly religious in nature. The night’s “feast” will be an “orgy,” as people with “blood-hot eyes” express their deepest emotions in song. The reader is invited to watch and listen along with the poet.

After introducing the African Americans who are celebrating, Toomer shifts the mood again in stanza 3, returning to the quiet picture of the Georgia scene. While human activity stops with the sound of the sawmill whistle, the growing season of nature continues. References to “pollen” and “plowed lands” indicate that the time of year is early spring.

The peaceful picture of nature continues in stanza 4. Smoke from the smoldering mound of sawdust lingers close to the ground before rising to join the sunset sky. Stanza 5 returns to the people. The poet now recognizes in their celebration signs of a lost civilization. Recollections of an “ostrich” and a “juju-man” confirm that these are traces of the African societies from which the ancestors of these people were abducted. In the sixth stanza, the natural surroundings complement the songs of the people. Adding to the harmony, the pine trees seem to accompany the voices celebrating the coming of evening.

In the final stanza, the poet directly addresses the singers. As the twin sounds of pine trees and human voices continue to mingle, Toomer calls on the singers to transform the people. Moving away from the pagan connotations of some of the words mentioned earlier in the poem—“orgy,” “High-priests,” and “juju-man”—Toomer asks the singers to make the “cornfield concubines” sing like virgins and to give the people “dreams of Christ.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522

“Georgia Dusk” is a poem characterized by repetition and regularity. The patterns of rhythm and rhyme are maintained throughout all seven stanzas. The meter, iambic pentameter, is used consistently, with only a few variations. The rhyming pattern (abba, cddc, and so on) also remains uniform, and all of the rhymes are true rhymes. This formal regularity reflects a theme of the poem, the persistence of group memory through song and ritual. Repetition plays a key role in the way people use poetry to preserve and pass on their history.

Many sounds are repeated within the poem. Alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds in neighboring words and syllables, often occurs in the first letters of words. Examples in the first two stanzas are “setting sun” and “moon and men,” and, in the last stanza, “cornfield concubines.” Sometimes Toomer multiplies this effect by alliterating two or more sounds in a single line. The third line of stanza 3 is a good example: “Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill.” In this line, Toomer alliterates the s sound of the first two words (“Soft settling”), the p sound of two...

(The entire section contains 1142 words.)

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Themes