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Poem Explication Essay
The poem “Common Dust” by Georgia Douglas Johnson is an expressionism poem, like many others during the 1920s, which reflects the ways African Americans felt during this time. The term “dust” is used to symbolize how every one of, us no matter the race, is the same in the end.
Georgia Douglas Johnson wrote Common Dust during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which played a substantial part in social issues associated with African Americans, by using Jazz music as a way to gain social status among other races. Georgia used a common problem to write her poem:
And who shall separate the dust
What later we shall be:
Whose keen discerning eye will scan
And solve the mystery?
The high, the low, the rich, the poor,
The black, the white, the red,
And all the chromatique between,
Of whom shall it be said:
Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies the one unlabelled,
The world at large his home!
Can one then separate the dust?
Will mankind lie apart,
When life has settled back again
The same as from the start?
To be able to fully understand the concept presented in the poem you must first examine the poetic devices used. The use of the word “dust” is a metaphor which holds the poem together. “Dust” represents the differences in race in America in the 1920’s. With this, you are able to understand the point the poet is trying to make. The racism that African Americans experienced in the 1920’s was very different from the racism that African Americans recieve now. After World War I many was able to understand how much of an influence racism had on the people. Not only did racism affect African Americans, but also other races as well, though many were given similar rights after slavery they were still not equal to whites at this time.
In the poem, the poet used words and phrases that are able to capture the reader’s attention such as “Here lies” as well as “Here are”. When using these words you are able to know the poet is creating a scene which the reader will be able to visualize. We see the use of these two phrases when Johnson states, “ Here lies the dust of Africa|Here are the sons of Rome| Here lies the one unlabelled” (Johnson, Line 9-11). The meaning of these lines can be interpreted in many ways the first being where different races originate from and the second being how diverse each race is. This being said the poem as a whole can be interpreted in many ways as well.
The poet does a remarkable job of using imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. While reading the poem a few times the reader was able to piece together what each picture means. In the first stanza, the poet says, “Whose keen discerning eye will scan” (Johnson, line 3) which is a picture of a single eye scanning over the different races. This could explain why the poet chooses to refer to the problem of racism as a mystery which needs to be solved. The mystery may be the question of why racism came to be in the 1920s. Having prior knowledge of the subject you are able to know why the poet chooses the words in the poem to mean different things which all leads back to her main point.
Without going back and fully examine the poem you are left wondering why the poem is written in the way, is it? This is because of the fact Georgia knew a little too well about inequality presented in the 1920s. All of her prior poems talk about a growing problem herself and other go through on an everyday basis. When stating “The high, the low, the rich, the poor, | The black, the white, the red, | And all the chromatique between, “ (Johnson, lines 5-8). She tells us this isn’t just a color problem but also an economic problem as well. Even with the boom of the Harlem Renaissance, these group of people was still hidden in the shadow of equality.
The meaning of the last stanza defines how the poet feels about the growing problem she is seeing. What was able to stand out from this particular stanza was, “When life has settled back again |The same as from the start?” (Johnson,line 15-16). stating that when the dust has settled and life is put back in motion will racism still have a place in America. Which proves the point of getting us to understand.
In conclusion, the poem ‘Common Dust” by Georgia Douglas Johnson is used to explain the issues surrounding racism in America more specifically during the Harlem Renaissance. The poem contains many forms of figurative language which was used to draw the reader in closely to understand the impact racism had on African Americans and other races in the 1920s.