The African Slaves

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The poem describes the similarities between the limbo dance and the journey the African Slaves went through while they were travelling to America and the West Indies. Throughout the poem you get the impression of possession which would have been the white people having possession over the African Slaves. On line 43 of the poem it says ‘and the dumb gods are raising me’ this could refer to the Slave Drivers raising them up because they have successfully completed the journey; it also refers to them as ‘Dumb’ so this emphasises the barrier between them. The word ‘Limbo’ has many different meanings including:

The dance where you were expected to bend backwards and walk under a low lying pole. A place for lost and neglected things  Roman Catholics believed it was the place for unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls such as infants and virtuous individuals (place between heaven & hell) The meaning of the word ‘Limbo’ relates to the poem because the African Slaves were neglected while aboard the ship taking them to the West Indies and America. Also while on the ship they were made to perform the Limbo dance in order to stay alive. The ship’s atmosphere was quite ‘hellish’ and so would relate Limbo being a place between heaven and hell.

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The organisation of the poem is very important and it gives the poem structure and layout. Enjambment is used throughout the poem as the poem used one word lines on 3 separate occasions, the purpose for the one word lines are that we pause after saying a word so this is used instead of a comma. Also, it gives the poem more effect and shape, it creates suspense and emphasises the movement and rhythm of the poem. This is relevant because the poem doesn’t use any punctuation so it makes it more original and gives the reader chance to take in what is happening.

The refrain is ‘limbo limbo like me’ this is started on line 5, the refrain is repeated throughout the poem and it guides us through the Limbo dance. While it says ‘limbo limbo like me’ it sort of creates the atmosphere that the slaves are egging each other on to push their selves to their limit in order to finish the dance. When the refrain begins on line 4 the music begins with it this puts the whole poem into prospective and gives it a steady rhythm. Until the end of the poem there is no punctuation, having no punctuation makes the rhythm of the poem more continuous.

The final full stop lets us know that the journey has ended and it also suggests some sort of salvation for the slaves. As the poem progresses the tone changes throughout. The poem starts when the Slaves are feeling scared and anxious and this seems to make the rhythm start off quite steady. As the poem goes on it emphasises that the Slaves are feeling alone, upset and unhappy we know this because lines 34 – 36 have single word lines saying ‘down down down’ this is when the Slaves are at there very lowest in the dance and in how their feeling.

To create the unhappy atmosphere it uses quite weak vocabulary like: dark, silence, down and darkness. These all emphasise the atmosphere around the slaves but also how the slaves are feeling because they are all confined in a small space. Towards the end of the poem the mood changes to relief that they had successfully completed their journey, this is indicated this way because on line 40 it says ‘sun coming up’ the sun in the sign that it’s a new day but also the sun is the symbol of hope. So this suggests that the slaves are now more hopeful because they have finished their journey but also the dance.


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