Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
- Ah, we've come full circle, folks. Ain't that nice?
- Here, we return back to the same first two lines as in the first stanza—the refrain. This brings our poem back around to the beginning. It shows us again the speaker's broken heart after we've learned why she has one in the first place.
- Without knowing what was coming, we may have read the first line, "Way Down South in Dixie," with an upbeat swing, but now we know the line is slow and sad.
- When we hear the speaker say "break the heart of me" this time, we know that she's got a major reason to have a broken heart.
- The whole poem has built to this moment. Her lover's been beaten and killed and she's seen his body hanging high in the air. She feels that she, and perhaps her entire race, can get no help from a white Jesus.
Love is a naked shadow
On a gnarled and naked tree.
- But this poem doesn't just want to come full circle. It wants to make a point, too.
- So the speaker gives us this metaphor. Love is a shadow on a tree.
- She describes this shadow and this tree in a way that is very specific to how the events in this poem have made her feel about love.
- When she says that love is a naked shadow, she's probably referring to the body of her lover. Her lover's dead body now represents love. Um, that's not good.
- Either he's become just a shadow to her because she's traumatized at the sight of him, or she can only bear to look at his shadow on the tree and not his actual body.
- Not only has her main squeeze been beaten and hanged, all of his clothes have been taken off, which makes his death even more humiliating.
- This whole event—her dead lover, her loss of faith—is so devastating that even the tree that her lover is hanging on is gnarled—warped, distorted—and, like him, naked.
- We don't know about you, but Shmoop just got the chills.