ANALYSIS – POETIC DEVICES IN STRANGE FRUIT
|‘Strange Fruit’||Unusual Imagery, so grabs your attention. Also dehumanising.|
|‘gallant’||Gallant means brave and honourable, so using it in this context is sarcastic – the poet means the opposite of this.|
|Makes you pay attention to those words|
|Throughout poems||Helps when reading it out loud, gives it structure, makes it flow. Memorable.|
|Means different – see connotations(fruit)
Two meanings: 1. People looking at hem might look like they had a bitter taste in their mouths, 2. The bitterness that it caused in the family and friends of those who were lynched.
Only reference to race in the poem. Followed by ‘bodies’, showing that the people had no individuality or identity as such apart from their race.
|‘Strange Fruit’||Gets it into your head – at beginning and end of poem to give it structure|
|We associate with death and pain
We think of fruit being positive, but in this poem we are made aware that this fruit is ‘strange’ – so negative.
|…the whole poem…||This whole poem uses Imagery to get its message across. In particular, a lot of disturbing and violent imagery is used. Also, at times, unusual imagery is used for dramatic effect.|
|For…||Time passing, reiterates the point|
|‘scent of magnolias’ vs ‘burning flesh’||Imagery for the nose J Shocks you because it is so disturbing, especially when juxtaposed with the sweetness of a magnolia.|
To drop: Autumn
|Shows it is all year round – ever present. And cyclical.|
CONTEXT, MEANING AND IMPACT
The song has simple lyrics, that carry a huge strength, and haunt you even when the song is over. The song exposes the brutality of racism in America, and doesn’t leave any room for more words. When the meaning of the song is fully grasped, one remains shocked, angry and disgusted by the imagery portrayed.
When Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939 she said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation but, because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing the piece, making it a regular part of her live performances. The song was so powerful that a rule was set that she could only close a show with it; the barmen would have to close off service and darken the room. The show would end with Billie Holiday, with her powerful voice, singing in the dark with a light shining on her. Even the way it was performed reflected the compelling origin of the song and its lyrics.
It was not easy to record the song, as most recording companies were afraid of gaining a bad reputation with the anti-communists and southern racists in America, which at the time dominated the political scene. However, when it was finally recorded by Commodore in 1939, it quickly became famous. It attracted the attention of the more politically aware park of society; intellectuals, artists, teachers and journalists. In October of that year, a journalist of the New York Post described the song as the anthem and the anger of the exploited people of the south, if they ever got to voice it.
At a time when political protest was not often expressed in musical form, the song was revolutionary. It was seldom played on the radio. This was a period in which the segregationist Southern Dixiecrats played a leading role in the Democratic Party as well as the Roosevelt administration. It would take a mass movement to finally dismantle the apartheid system that played a key role in setting the stage for lynching.
The song, is said to be the original protest song.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
SOME FACTS ABOUT THE SONG
It was the first time a black artist had sung such controversial lyrics. Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun called the song « a declaration of war… the beginning of the civil rights movement ».
It has endured and become a symbol of the racism, cruelty, pain and suffering endured by so many in the United States. Other major artists, including Nina Simone, John Martyn, Sting and Robert Wyatt, went on to record it.
Billie Holiday’s version eventually sold more than a million copies. In 1999, Time magazine voted Strange Fruit the Song of the Century.
Bob Dylan cites the song as a personal inspiration. It has inspired books, an opera and continues to be recorded today.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN ANALYSING THE SONG :
Why were most lynching victims hung from trees?
How do we know from the lyrics that the « strange » fruit here means the bodies of lynching victims?
What contrast is made between the « gallant South » and the South which bears strange fruit? What is ironic about this contrast?
Why do you think the word « lynching » never appears in the song?
Do you think the song is more powerful, or less powerful, because its topic [lynching] is implied instead of stated?
To what extent can a song be an effective form of protest ?
Why is this song so relevant today ?
Donald Trump inauguration: Rebecca Ferguson says she will perform ceremony if she can sing ‘Strange Fruit’ !!!!