James Weldon Johnson's "Sence You Went Away" - Owlcation - Education
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James Weldon Johnson's "Sence You Went Away"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

James Weldon Johnson

Introduction and Text of "Sence You Went Away"

James Weldon Johnson's "Sence You Went Away" creates a speaker/singer who bemoans the loss of a loved one. The poem/song consists of four stanzas, each with the rime scheme AAAB, wherein the final line constitutes the refrain in which the speaker reveals the reason for his melancholy.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Sence You Went Away

Seems lak to me de stars don't shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der's nothin' goin' right,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me de sky ain't half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat eve'ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don't know what to do,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me dat eve'ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day's jes twice ez long,
Seems lak to me de bird's forgot his song,
Sence you went away.

Seems lak to me I jes can't he’p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gittin’ dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.

Darryl Taylor singing musical rendition of Johnson's "Sence You Went Away"

Commentary

Accomplished poet James Weldon Johnson also composed many songs that have become popular. His bluesy "Sence You Went Away" features a southern dialect, also known as "Negro" dialect.

First Stanza: Expressing Sorrow

Seems lak to me de stars don't shine so bright,
Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,
Seems lak to me der's nothin' goin' right,
Sence you went away.

The speaker expresses his sorrow by reporting that both the sun and stars do not seem to be shedding light now, because "you went away." The reader/listener learns nothing about the person who has gone away, only that the speaker's life has been adversely affected by the loved one's absence.

Not only do the speaker's eyes seem no longer to perceive light, but he also feels that nothing in his life is "goin' right." He makes it clear that he is not asserting that the world itself has changed; he is merely revealing how things "seem" to him as he repeats throughout the poem, "seems lak to me," that is, "seems like to me."

Second Stanza: Absence of Sun

Seems lak to me de sky ain't half so blue,
Seems lak to me dat eve'ything wants you,
Seems lak to me I don't know what to do,
Sence you went away.

The absence of sun and starlight affect the shade of the blue sky, which is now only "half so blue." Everything reminds him that he is missing his beloved because "Seems lak to me dat ev'ything wants you." Of course, his exaggeration merely underscores how desperately he desires the return of his missing beloved.

Third Stanza: Nothing Is Right

Seems lak to me dat eve'ything is wrong,
Seems lak to me de day's jes twice ez long,
Seems lak to me de bird's forgot his song,
Sence you went away.

Again, the speaker asserts that nothing seems right for him anymore, that "ev'ything is wrong." And he reveals that time seems to lag because of his sorrow: "Seems lak to me de day's jes twice es long" or "seems like to me the day's just twice as long."

Nature in the form of singing birds is lost on him, because he feels that "de bird's forgot his song." His melancholy colors all of his senses, especially seeing and hearing. Life has lost its luster, light has escaped him, and even pleasant sounds are no longer detectable.

Fourth Stanza: Fog of Sorrow

Seems lak to me I jes can't he’p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gittin’ dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.

Finally, the speaker reveals his own behavior has been influenced by the sad fact that "you went away." He can't stop sighing, and "ma th'oat keeps gittin' dry," while "a tear stays in ma eye." His physical functions are out of kilter: what needs to be wet is dry, and what needs to be dry is wet.

The speaker's world has transformed into a melancholy fog of sorrow and disorientation—all because his beloved has gone away.

Kris Delmhorst singing her version of Johnson's "Sence You Went Away"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes