"Limbo" is an extended metaphor for slavery and the transition from freedom to slavery. It is closely linked to the journey the slaves made onboard the slave-ships where they travelled from freedom to slavery. The limbo dance is used as the metaphor, as limbo can also mean inbetween places...not belonging, such as the place young babies go that's neither heaven nor hell.
1) The journey of slaves from freedom to slavery through the slave ship
2) The freedom of slaves after their long stint in captivity
Split into lots of little stanzas with the line "limbo//limbo like me" separated and in italics for emphasis. It is not constructed as a logical narrative -- instead, there are a sequence of images that reflects the experience of the passage on the slave ships.
The Use of Imagery:
"stick hit sound"
- describing the rhythm made during the limbo dance
- a metaphor for the slaves being beaten on the ships
- stick is what represses the limbo dancer, as they must go under it...the stick is also what represses the slaves, as those who cause pain are the ones in control
"stick is the whip and the dark deck is slavery" --> further emphasises the link between the limbo dance and slavery. Suggests that the slaves are trapped as the dancer is trapped between the "stick" and the "dark deck", so the slaves are trapped between the "whip" and "slavery"
"the water is hiding"
- the slaves are trapped so deep in the ships that they can no longer feel or see the water
- water is vital for life to survive, perhaps this suggests that their needs are not being met
- even the water is not retaliating against what is happening and is letting the ships sail onwards to take the slaves to their fate
"knees spread wide"
- mirrors the movement of the limbo dancers as they move under the pole
- suggestive of sexual assault, especially if we look at the remainder of the phrase -- "and the dark ground is under me"
- just an example of the kinds of abuse the slaves were subject to
"dumb gods are raising me"
- suggest that the sailors on the ship see themselves as superior, like "gods" but that actually they are morally inferior and are therefore disabled similarly to the "dumb gods"
- may suggest that the "gods" are not speaking out against this atrocity, similarly to the hiding water
- could suggest that, although the gods are dumb, they are still raising the slaves up and out of…