Ok, here goes!

First off, I have to admit that I love a poem that engages in a little trickery. “Southern Song” is a lyrical title that makes the reader think we’re going to read a nice, pretty poem. And it is pretty, only Walker uses that pretty voice to show us the ugly side of the south as well. The speaker wants to smell the earth, feel the sun, lay among the clover — and the speaker also wants “no mobs to wrench me from my southern rest; no / forms to take me in the night and burn my shack and / make for me a nightmare full of oil and flame” (lines 11-13). We learn this not through anger, though that would be justified.

In an interview with Lucy Freibert, Walker explains this mixture of beauty and ugliness in her larger work:

“I contrast the ideal beauty of the land, the ambience of the South, and the horror of its violence and racial conflict. When I leave the physical beauty of the South, and when I talk about ‘my body’s southern song — the fusion of the South, my body’s song and me,’ I mean that I am a part of this whole process of nature, what when we come together I am complete and it is complete because it is a part of me and I am a part of it. Now I want to see the dichotomy closed, the split ended. The social horror and the physical beauty are constantly there, and I talk about that in everything I write — the beauty of the South and the horror of this other society” (112).

Walker gave that interview in 1986, and 30 years later, for those of us who live in the south, this dichotomy is a way of life. This split hasn’t, in fact, ended, though perhaps it’s gotten smaller.

What do you think?

Conversations with Margaret Walker, UP of Mississippi, 2002