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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jazz, Meaning, and Structure in Seventh Street

The structure of Seventh Street is unique. The first and third stanzas are exactly the same. The rhyme scheme in these stanzas is AABB. The rhyme scheme allows the first two and the second two lines to be tied together. The first two lines detail bootleggers themselves, while the second two lines detail their mode of transportation: Cadillacs. The first and the last line of each four line stanza has nine syllables, while the middle two lines only have seven. This variation in line length slightly alters the rhythm of the poem, drawing attention to the physical attributes of the bootleggers themselves. The odd number of syllables, as opposed to the common even number of syllables, creates a syncopated rhythm. Jazz is a fairly new art form during the Harlem Renaissance yet it has a heavy influence on this poem. The genre is popularized and perfected by the African American population so it makes sense that this style of music would appeal to someone like Toomer. Syncopated rhythm is essential in a jazz tune, so Toomer adopts that influence into Seventh Street.
Repeating the first stanza at the end of the poem gives that stanza an entirely new meaning. The two stanzas contain the exact same words in the exact same structure, yet contain two completely different meanings. The money is burning in pockets because the bootleggers might not live to spend it tomorrow. Cadillacs are big cars necessary for carrying any quantity of illicit alcohol. The cars speeding everywhere hint at the fear the drivers have of being killed by a rival gang. A sense of urgency is now present that was not necessarily there in the first stanza. The first stanza gives off a sense of adventure, a sense of fun. The final stanza gives off a sense of fear and necessity. It details the dangers of living along Seventh Street. This repetition also hints at a cycle. Despite the dangers, the bootleggers are unable to gain employment elsewhere, so the cycle must persist.

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