Poem #15: A September Night by George Marion McClellan

Estimated Reading Time:  4 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

TitleA September Night

Author: George Marion McClellan

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


The full September moon sheds floods of light,
And all the bayou’s face is gemmed with stars,
Save where are dropped fantastic shadows down
From sycamores and moss-hung cypress trees.
With slumberous sound the waters half asleep
Creep on and on their way, ’twixt rankish reeds,
Through marsh and lowlands stretching to the Gulf.
Begirt with cotton fields, Anguilla sits
Half bird-like, dreaming on her Summer nest.
Amid her spreading figs and roses, still
In bloom with all their Spring and Summer hues,
Pomegranates hang with dapple cheeks full ripe,
And over all the town a dreamy haze
Drops down. The great plantations, stretching far
Away, are plains of cotton, downy white.
O, glorious is this night of joyous sounds;
Too full for sleep. Aromas wild and sweet,
From muscadine, late blooming jessamine,
And roses, all the heavy air suffuse.
Faint bellows from the alligators come
From swamps afar, where sluggish lagoons give
To them a peaceful home. The katydids
Make ceaseless cries. Ten thousand insects’ wings
Stir in the moonlight haze and joyous shouts
Of Negro song and mirth awake hard by
The cabin dance. O, glorious is this night!
The Summer sweetness fills my heart with songs,
I can not sing, with loves I can not speak.


McClellan paints such a vivid picture of this September night that hits all the sensors; it's so very easy to imagine the space and while yours and mine would not look exactly the same, they would still be of the same place.  I find the imagery delightful to think about as McClellan draws analogies such as "pomegranates" and "dapple cheeks full ripe".  

I'm intrigued by the referent to Anguilla. As far as I could tell (brief Google search), Anguilla is a small Caribbean island, named for its snake-like appearance. It's also a section of Saint Croix (of the US Virgin Islands) but even that doesn't seem quite clear.  So I'm not quite sure either are the points of reference here.

I'm also curious by the contrasts of spaces in this poem.  The woodlands are teeming with life whereas the town is in a "dreamy haze".  Yet despite all the sounds of nature, the sounds of the joyous sounds of the Black community at the dance cabin can be easily heard.  These spaces seem to all impress upon the speaker the power of night and how vibrant life can be at this moment.  It is worthy of singing.

Yet, the speaker gives us these final lines:  "The Summer sweetness fills my heart with songs,/ I can not sing, with loves I can not speak."  It makes one wonder who the speaker is and why they are forbidden to speak with their loves. My guess would be that the speaker is or was a slave, recognizing the riches that life offers in these quiet moments and yet, denied the humanity of being able to be with the person they love.  Thus, by reading these two lines, we revisit the poem and find that it is more somber than joyous than what we might have first experienced in reading it.  

There's some language here that makes me think that something horrible has happened here.  For instance, there is a "floods of light", "dropped fantastic shadows down", "moss-hung cypress trees", "waters half-asleep creep on and on", "pomegranates hang with dapple cheeks full ripe", "dreamy haze drops down" "faint bellows", and "ceaseless cries".  The repetition of downward movement and hanging feels more relevant given the final lines. Has something horrible happened to the speaker's loved one and while the rest of the world moves on during this September night, the speaker is unable to?  

Like many of these, it's a bit of guesswork.  Yet, I think I'm somewhere on the right track--there's subtle violence within this poem that appears initially as a celebration of the night.

Those are my thoughts.  How do you interpret the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. The author is visiting Anguilla, Mississippi and seeing a swamp or bayou, for the first time. He grew up in cities and is amazed by the beauty of the swamp, as well as the cotton fields, and the people living in the area. Anguilla is in the Delta region, about 2 hours south of Memphis not far from the Mississippi River.


Post a Comment