Robert M. Farnsworth: On "Dark Symphony"

Tolson made some changes in the text of "Dark Symphony" between its publication in Atlantic Monthly in September 1941 and its publication in Rendezvous with America [in 1944]. The most important changes are in the opening stanza, but another, minor change is significant thematically. In stanza 4, line 4, as it appears in the book, his is underlined: "The New Negro Speaks in his America." The effect of much of what Tolson has said about America in the two opening sections of [Rendezvous with America], and now in "Dark Symphony," is to stake out a claim by definition. America is a nation of the people, not a nation of the Big Boys. It is a nation of a people who have learned to respect the rights and dignity of other people, not a nation of exploiters, racists, or demagogues. The latter are the true un-Americans. Black people share in the authentic American heritage as richly as do any other people:


Black Crispus Attucks taught

        Us how to die

Before white Patrick Henry’s bugle breath

Uttered the vertical

        Transmitting cry:

"Yea, give me liberty or give me death."


The songs of black slaves conjure up "shadow-shapes of ante-bellum years," "One More River to Cross," "Steal Away to Jesus," "The Crucifixion," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "Go Down, Moses" are provided just enough of a dramatic context to make clear that these songs carried sustaining messages that only the slaves understood. The wrongs that have been suffered must not be forgotten. The New Negro proclaims the accomplishments of his ancestors and boldly shares in the most important cultural activities of today. He is free of the exploitation, profiteering, and fascist subversion that call the Americanness of other Americans into question:



Out of abysses of Illiteracy,

Through labyrinths of Lies,

Across waste lands of Disease …

We advance!


Out of dead-ends of Poverty,

Through wildernesses of


Across barricades of Jim Crowism

…We advance!


With the Peoples of the World …

We advance!


The democratic promise of America is expanded into a global dream for mankind, and within that dream black America will find challenge, recognition, and support. The rendezvous with America is a rendezvous with self-realization for all the peoples of the world who have been excluded from the full democratic dream by poverty, class, or race.


Title Robert M. Farnsworth: On "Dark Symphony" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Robert M. Farnsworth Criticism Target Melvin B. Tolson
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Melvin B. Tolson, 1898-1966: Plain Talk and Poetic Prophecy
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