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Old Black Joe Analysis



Author: Poetry of Stephen C. Foster Type: Poetry Views: 542

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1Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,

2Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,

3Gone from the earth to a better land I know,

4I hear their gentle voices calling "Old Black Joe."



5[Chorus] I'm coming, I'm coming, for my head is bending low:

6I hear those gentle voices calling, "Old Black Joe."



7[Solo] Why do I weep when my heart should feel no pain

8Why do I sigh that my friends come not again,

9Grieving for forms Now departed long a go?

10I hear their gentle voices calling "Old Black Joe."



11[Chorus] I'm coming, I'm coming, for my head is bending low:

12I hear those gentle voices calling, "Old Black Joe."



13[Solo] Where are the hearts once so happy and so free?

14The children so dear that I held upon my knee,

15Gone to the shore where my soul has longed to go.

16I hear their gentle voices calling "Old Black Joe."



17 [Chorus] I'm coming, I'm coming, for my head is bending low:

18 I hear those gentle voices calling, "Old Black Joe."





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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: surprising :.

I had only heard this as a drunken, maudlin song-- first by my great uncle and then in the film "Barton Fink"-- and just read it for the first time. I know that some people see it as offensive racial stereotyping, but I must admit to being moved by it.

Repetition of the word "gone" in the first stanza connects to the final statement in the last, and sets the tone of the work. "Gone" is inextricably linked to loss-- of happy innocense, of the friends of youth, of life-- and sorrowful longing (even the unfulfilled longing to also be "gone").

The speaker has outlived every meaningful connection of his youth: his friends, his coworkers, "forms" (people? ideas?), even his own children. He knows in his mind that they're in a better place, but in his heart of heart he wonders/doubts-- if they're in a better place, why should he be sad? But he *is* sad. What benevolent God would keep him around, constantly "coming" (opposite of "gone") but never arriving even when all the others who've gone before are continually calling gently for him?

Take it into the general (and I'm willing to let others duke out the historical racism or lack thereof) by removing the specific reference to "Black" and this becomes a common lament-- where are the happier days of my youth? We all have our own "cotton fields"-- crappy jobs in which we mad great friends.

As a childless middle-aged person, I can almost understand the longing and sorrow for children who have died before before the parent. I can even understand a bit of the notion of the pointlessness of a life which no longer serves any purpose beyond reminiscencing and waiting for the end.

A lot cooler than I thought it would be.

| Posted on 2005-04-07 | by Approved Guest




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