Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Tableau"

"Tableau" (1925, 12) is a three quatrain poem about a bond of a golden white youth and a dark black youth, metaphorically day and night, and as deeply linked together. Their homoerotic, cross-racial love and/or friendship crosscuts many social assumptions and fixed groups. As the second quatrain tells us, both the spying and gossiping black and white detractors are scandalized at their concord. Answering the charge of an unnatural relationship, the poem works on stable natural metaphors in conventional phrases; lightning/thunder and day/night as tropes for their bond have the effect of justifying the relationship, for these natural twains are well known, unquestionably paired, and linguistically unremarkable.

The poem, a rich and determined statement, offers a political allegory, a spiritual allegory, a sexual and poetic allegory. The cross-race love (or friendship) evokes their critical violation of socially mandated paths and the actual subcultural spaces of cross-race, same-sex sexual meeting coded as marginal (as it may evoke a higher spiritual way with the word "cross"). Their Christological concord allows them to pass unscathed through a quagmire of angry looks. The evocation of the word for racial passing suggests the formation of a conglomerate racial identity (a new space for passing) fusing and merging the two races as one, in one sexual body. Indeed, even the title, meaning a striking scene with picturesque people, contains a deep metonym for "tablet" and (with the lightning and thunder of the end) suggests a new law, or a scene of judgment. The homoerotic content is used powerfully to establish racial equipoise in a new post-racialized space, a conglomerate interior title to poetic authority for the speaker of the enunciation.

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Title Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Tableau" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Rachel Blau DuPlessis Criticism Target Countee Cullen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 11 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry
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