Rita Dove: On "Dark Symphony"

… "Dark Symphony" is a lyrical tour de force, a sweeping review of black American history in musical vocabulary. The poem is divided into six sections, and each section is assigned a musical signature. The upbeat optimism of Allegro Moderato describes the black contribution to the Revolutionary War effort. This early idealism is made drear by the escalating horrors of slavery, exquisitely rendered in Lento Grave ("slow and stately") in the second section, horrors that are then made spiritually bearable only by the nourishment of gospel, what W. E. B. Du Bois calls the Sorrow Songs. The iambic trimeter of Andante Sostenuto underscores the abeyance of those years when the emancipation promise of "forty acres and a mule" had soured into the institution of sharecropping:

 

They tell us to forget

The Bill of Rights is burned.

Three hundred years we slaved,

We slave and suffer yet.

Though flesh and bone rebel,

They tell us to forget!

 

The dawning of the Harlem Renaissance heralds the birth of Alain Locke’s famous "New Negro"; the fourth section, aptly marked Tempo Primo, both points toward the future and harkens dramatically back to the ungrounded optimism of the Revolutionary War period. Sure enough, the next section (Larghetto) rebukes white America for its failures: each stanza begins with the refrain "None in the land can say / To us black men Today," followed by examples of the violence and deceit plaguing the Depression years. The final section regales in march time (Tempo di Marcia) the determination of the New Black American to advance "Out of the dead ends of Poverty" and "Across barricades of Jim Crowism" to a better world.

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Title Rita Dove: On "Dark Symphony" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Raymond Nelson, Melvin B. Tolson Criticism Target Melvin B. Tolson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Introduction
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