The Creation by James Weldon Johnson Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

James Weldon Johnson retells the story of creation in his appropriately-named poem, ~'The Creation.~' In this lesson, we'll take a look at this poem and summarize the story that it relates to.

Retelling Genesis

If you've ever been to church, you've probably heard stories of great fish swallowing men whole, the tale of David fighting the giant Goliath, and the historical depiction of Noah corralling all types of animals aboard his ark. Another of those stories can be found very early in the Bible in Genesis. It's all about the story of creation, the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve.

James Weldon Johnson uses the stories in Genesis to recreate a picture of creation.
creation, genesis, james weldon johnson

Lots of people have told the story of creation in lots of different ways. Writer James Weldon Johnson uses his poetic style to retell the creation story from Genesis. His style is reminiscent of an African-American pulpit-oratory. Pulpit-oratory is a method of speaking that incorporates an expressiveness or grandiose style into telling a story. In Johnson's retelling, he makes God more human, walking around and creating all we see today. Let's break down 'The Creation' and see what Johnson had to say.

Looking at 'The Creation'

'The Creation' begins with God reflecting on the emptiness of space and recognizing his loneliness. He decides to make the world to help keep himself company.

All of space was dark, ''blacker than a hundred midnights,'' until God smiled and light broke through. When the light came and the darkness disappeared, God said ''That's good!'' From the light, God crafted the sun and put it in the sky. From the light's leftovers, God decided to create the moon and the stars to illuminate the darkness.

Once there was light and darkness, God's next step was to create a world to be inhabited, drawing again another ''That's good!'' from the Creator. As He sets foot on the planet, He has all of his other creations around Him: the sun to His right, the moon to His left.

Creating The Elements

God walked, and in His steps, the poem shows his creation of the valleys deepening and the mountains rising. Except, something was missing, ''...the earth was hot and barren.'' God decides to create oceans by spitting them out. The poem humanizes the creation of other elements by the actions of the Creator: ''He batted His eyes'' and lightning flashed; ''He clapped His hands'' and thunder rolled.

The water He'd just created helped the earth to blossom, with grass and flowers blooming. Trees grew and the lakes and river filled. God was pleased so far.

Populating Sea and Land

With the raise of His arm, all manner of animals began to populate the sea and the land: fish, beasts and birds, throughout the water, woods and air. Again, God said, ''That's good!''

God spends some time enjoying his creation; the sun, the earth, and all the living things, yet God was still lonely. God spends some time thinking about what to do next when it occurs to Him: ''I'll make me a man!''

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