Introduction & Overview of Chorale

Kevin Young (poet)
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Chorale Summary & Study Guide Description

Chorale Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography on Chorale by Kevin Young (poet).

In his third collection of poetry, Jelly Roll: A Blues (2003), Kevin Young presents the reader with verses drawing first and foremost on the musical genre of the title and also on a wide variety of other historical genres. The titles of the poems themselves are the first indication of his inspirations: “Rhythm & Blues,” “Early Blues,” “Blues,” and “Late Blues” affirm the collection's foundation; “Dixieland,” “Ragtime,” and “Boogie-Woogie” indicate that Young is wandering further afield while nevertheless remaining rooted in the blues tradition; and “Etude” (a composition with both technical and artistic merit), “Cantata” (a composition employing voices in various forms), and “Rhapsody” (an irregular, improvisational composition) offer evidence of the author's widespread understanding of the essence of music. Indeed, nearly all of the more than one hundred poems in the collection reverberate with musicality, with fifteen titles including the word song. The work's opening epigraph consists of fourteen lines of lyrics written by the blues guitarist Robert Johnson.

“Chorale” fits neatly into this musical framework. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a chorale is “a hymn or psalm sung to a traditional or composed melody in church.” In appearing directly after the extended ruminations of “Sleepwalking Psalms” and a few poems before “Jubilee”—where the word jubilee has religious connotations both within the Roman Catholic Church and among African Americans regardless of denomination—“Chorale” can be seen as providing something of a core of spirituality within the collection as a whole.

Outside the literal context of its title, “Chorale” can be read as a lamentation of uncertainty. The narrator seems to question what the world has thus far given him and what he can reasonably expect from it in the future. The reader, in turn, wonders along with him. The poem is brief; it consists of eight couplets, or two-line stanzas, and a solitary closing line. In all, the poet uses only sixty-four words to communicate the essence of his train of thought, such that the reader must approach the poem with the utmost attention in attempting to grasp that essence.

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