Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
- The speaker is leaving us in the dark here. Who is he? Where is he? Music is all there is, so far.
- Something or someone is "droning" music. Droning is that rumbling, low sound of a big engine. "Syncopated" is a musical term. It kind of means that the beat shifts the rhythm and creates a rocking back and forth feeling.
- And wouldn't you know it? Either the speaker or the singer is rocking "back and forth" now.
- Another word you might be new to is "croon." Crooning is this laid back and soulful style of singing. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra were all crooners back in the day.
I heard a Negro play.
- The speaker is listening to an African American musician.
- We still don't know where we are, and we don't know what instrument the musician is playing.
- Take a note here: "Negro" was the politically correct term back in the 1920s.
- So the speaker is listening to some laid back music and his poetry is laid back to help us feel it too.
- The indent, or enjambment, makes you take time to pause as your eye moves from the end of the line above to this one.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
- OK, we just jumped ahead in time. In the first three lines, we think we're there listening to the musician, but that was actually a couple of nights ago.
- Also, we just got a big tip into where speaker was that night: Lenox Avenue. Lenox Avenue shoots through the heart of Harlem in Manhattan, and it had the best bars and dance halls in the country around this time.
- Line 5 brings the reader back in by setting the mood with some soft lighting: gas lamps.
- "Pallor" isn't too different from "pale" or "dull." It suggests that the poor lighting of the scene is sucking some of the life out of the crowd.