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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

A BACK-LOG SONG, by                 Poet's Biography

Paul Laurence Dunbar's "A Back-Log Song" encapsulates the spirit of communal celebration during the Christmas season, offering a glimpse into the lives of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through vivid imagery and rhythmic language, Dunbar invites readers into a world where the simple act of burning a back log becomes a symbol of unity, joy, and cultural tradition.

The poem paints a vivid picture of the preparations for Christmas on a plantation. The axes have been ringing in the woods, and the chips are falling thick as the workers cut the hickory logs. The scene evokes a sense of industry and anticipation as the community gathers wood for the upcoming festivities. The back log, soaked in the creek and brought to the big house, takes on a metaphorical significance, representing the heart of the celebration about to unfold.

Dunbar's choice of dialect adds authenticity to the poem and captures the distinctive voices and speech patterns of the characters. This dialect, while reflecting the vernacular of the time, also serves to highlight the resilience and cultural identity of the African American community. The dialect creates a connection between the readers and the characters, immersing them in the atmosphere of the scene.

The back-log burning ceremony becomes a communal event that bridges social divisions. The master and mistress of the house join the African American workers in the celebration, erasing the usual barriers of class and race. As the hymn begins, the barriers between the privileged and the oppressed are momentarily dissolved, and the focus shifts to shared merriment and the spirit of togetherness.

The imagery of the animals on the plantation adds a touch of humor and charm to the poem. The cautious pigs and wary chickens reflect the awareness of impending festivities even among the animals. This inclusion of the natural world emphasizes the holistic nature of the celebration and the interconnectedness of all living beings in the community.

The musical quality of the poem's language, with its AABB rhyme scheme, rhythm, and repetition, mirrors the joyful and rhythmic celebrations taking place. It captures the sense of movement, dance, and music that are integral to the Christmas gathering. Through this musicality, Dunbar invites readers to join in the festivities themselves, making the poem an interactive experience.

In conclusion, "A Back-Log Song" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a vibrant depiction of the communal celebration of Christmas in the African American community. Through the imagery of the back log, the use of dialect, and the musical language, Dunbar invites readers to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere and to appreciate the power of cultural traditions to unite and uplift. The poem celebrates not only the holiday season but also the enduring spirit of resilience, joy, and unity in the face of adversity.


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