God’s Trombones by James Weldon Johnson

Copyright 1927, 1969 printing
Checked out 17 times in 40 years
Last checked out 22 years ago

Unfortunately, the life of this book on the shelf seems to be at an end, but I have a hard time recommending its removal.  It’s one of the most poetically musical books of religious poetry I’ve come across on the shelves. It’s subtitle, “Seven Negro Sermons in Verse,” explains its contents well. The poetry is often incantatory is a testament to the influence of language on poetry and poetry on religious language. It opens with “Listen, Lord–A Prayer:”

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord–this morning–
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.

I enjoyed his description of the flood as well in “Noah Built the Ark:”

And the thunder rolled like a rumbling drum;
And the lightning jumped from pole to pole;
And it rained down rain, rain, rain,
Great God, but didn’t it rain!

The energy isn’t always at such a pitch but opportunities for dramatic language are well-cultivated, making it an enjoyable read. The religious ideas and interpretations may not be modern, but they would certainly be recognizable to most people and inoffensive.

Johnson wrote this as historical preservation of a type of sermon he saw as fading away. Despite its lack of circulation, this book could be kept for historical reasons and possibly as a diversity component in the collection. But I recommend keeping it because it’s enjoyable, spirited (in many meanings of the word) religious poetry. Hopefully the pious people of Albertville will rediscover it some day. It would be fun to find a person willing to read them aloud in the spirit in which they were written.

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About jppoetryreader

Poetry reviewer and poetry consultant for libraries
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