Tuesday, September 12, 2006

"Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday

During my office hours all of last semester, only one student availed herself of extra help with her essays. This semester, none so far. So it's generally a time for me to grade papers but also to read from one of the many anthologies (book heaven) on the shelves in the shared offices. I read today a very nicely done anthology of African-American literature and came across this chilling poem / song of the late Billie Holiday. God reward those who struggled against oppression. It reminded me of a time that only "appears" distant. In real time, it was just yesterday. I say this because human blight cannot be framed as an "historical" moment. It is as it always has been, a struggle against a potential that disrespects time and context.

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

7 Comments:

Anonymous ABD said...

as-salaam alaykum,

beautiful in a terrible way. which leads me to wonder: should the grotesque be beautiful? i don't know how to make my question more precise, but i'm thinking of as diverse phenomena as the beauty of tragedy, the aesthetic treatment of violence as well as the aesthetic treatment of grief.

in other words, is the conflictedness of our response to a piece like this a good thing or a bad thing?

9/12/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Wow, Abd. Good topic to pursue: "the beauty of tragedy, the aesthetic treatment of violence as well as the aesthetic treatment of grief." I'd recommend that you go for it. To call murdered folks hanging from trees "strange fruit" is actually an amazing description that underscores brutality. When you talk about art, logic and conflict have different meanings. I mean, we have art because truth cannot be contained by discursive methods alone. You got to have something that expands our methods of understanding and our methods of calling out the injustice in the world. The Civil Rights movement worked, in part, because of a cultural bed prepared by the likes of Billie Holiday,Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ella Baker, James Baldwin. They broke the abstraction.

9/13/2006 7:23 AM  
Anonymous Maliha said...

Salamaat,
art makes pain sing the blues and colors human dimensions to bare cold facts.

that's a really beautiful and haunting song.

9/13/2006 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Maliha said...

btw..i have lurked here awhile and enjoy your posts Mashaallah; may God increase you in all dimensions (amin).

9/13/2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Abuljude said...

Hey... if you really aren't doing any work during your office hours, I should drop by and give you some. Like, watch my three kids, known technically as "the 'afareet".

9/13/2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Maliha, thanks for the compliment / prayer and for your comment: "pain sing the blues." Nice.

AJ: Afareet learn their afareetness from somewhere. Right?

9/13/2006 7:44 PM  
Anonymous irving said...

I had never heard that song before by Lady Day, and it really is a heartbreaker of real blues, of what it meant to grow up black in the South of her time. May God bless her soul, and the souls of all the strange fruit she sings about.

Thank you for posting it. Such words should never be forgotten, nor the deeds that evoked them.

Ya Haqq!

9/14/2006 12:35 PM  

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