Sence You Went Away
by: James Weldon Johnson
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,
Sense you went away.
Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,
Seems lak to me ma tho’oat keeps gittin’ dry,
Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,
Sence you went away.
This poem spoke to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of relationships – their cyclical nature, their evolution, and the fact that they come with no guarantees. The bittersweet motion of these facts is reflected in the rhythmic repetition of the poem. The rhythm of the repetitive words mirrors the repetitive thoughts we tend to think, both at the beginning and the end of relationships.
In the beginning, we experience repetitive thoughts of our beloved’s beauty. At the end, we wrestle with unending flows of thought loops, obsessive thoughts of longing and regret. Both the end and the beginning are one and the same in consciousness. The joy of the beginning is inextricably linked to the pain of the end.
I love how the speaker universalizes this pain. In the first three stanzas, he sees nature itself as mirroring his personal pain. In each of the first three stanzas, “eve’ything” reflects his pain. Our sad thoughts, like our happy thoughts – when they are linked to circumstances outside ourselves – are self-centered and appear to be reflected in the world around us. Everything around us gets distorted through the filter of our thoughts.
When we’re hurting, especially from some kind of relationship dissolution, it feels like everything in our life is messed up, not just the romantic portion. But, in this poem, even from the beginning, we know the speaker will eventually experience healing because he repeats “seems lak” in the first three lines of each stanza. In other words, he knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. It’s just how things seem in his mind. It’s not really universal. It just feels like it!
The speaker moves tangibly towards healing by the final stanza. He finally narrows his focus away from the stars and the sky and brings it back to himself: “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.” It’s not nature or the world that is sad; it’s just him.
Although the poem ends here, we have hope for the speaker. We know that he is now facing his pain as something individual, not universal. The universe is neither conspiring against him nor joining in his pity party. Likewise, when we emerge from any hurt, we move away from “why me’s” and “life sucks” statements to taking charge of our experience, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions and move through them.
It is the nature of all things to end, disappear, die, dissolve, change, evolve, and resurrect. Acknowledging and embracing this fact does not exempt us from pain, but it can help us process our emotions more quickly and prevent us from suffering needlessly. “Sence You Went Away” is a poem we can write to anyone we love, whether the relationship is ongoing, has ended, is just beginning, or is beginning again. We get to enjoy people for however long we get to enjoy them. And then they go away. And we are better off for having known them.
I wish you all a beautiful and safe 4th of July.
Peace and Love,