David Perkins: On "The Creation" and "God's Trombones"

The work for which Johnson is most remembered is God's Trombones, which caused a sensation when it was published in 1927. Impressed with the power of the imagination and speech of the Irish peasantry, Johnson wished to create a similar monument—and literary movement—for his own race. God’s Trombones consists of seven sermons by a black preacher. Though Johnson did not use dialect, his free-verse paragraphs are in the rhythms of this indigenous oratory and his imagery caught the simplicity and grandeur of the preacher's imagination, nurtured on the Bible:

 

And now, O Lord--

When I've done drunk my last cup of sorrow—

When I've been called everything but a child of God

When I'm done travelling up the rough side of the mountain--

O--Mary's Baby—

When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death—

When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet—

Lower me to my dusty grave in peace

To wait for that great gittin' up morning.

 

The use of the redundant auxiliary ("done"), the biblical, concrete imagery ("cup of sorrow"), the anaphora ("When I've . . . When this . . ."), and the allusion to well-known spirituals ("Mary Had a Baby, Yes, Lord" and "In Dat Great Gittin' up Mornin’") are typical of Johnson's style in this work. In an actual church sermon the last line would be a signal to the congregation to break into singing the spiritual.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title David Perkins: On "The Creation" and "God's Trombones" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author David Perkins Criticism Target James Weldon Johnson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 09 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode
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