What does the phrase "Look Away" mean in the chorus of the song "Dixie".
March 17, 2008 11:12 AM   Subscribe

In the (traditional Southern U.S.) song "Dixie", what is meant by the lyric "Look away" from the chorus "Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land."

O, I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away! Look away!
Look away! Dixie Land.

I'm unfamiliar with use of "look away" in this context, and I imagine that it's an idiomatic usage that, well... meant something in the mid-19th century. What was it? Thanks.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He isn't in his beloved home so he is looking away towards it.
posted by wsg at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2008

Really? I considered that, but it struck me as... clumsy? Or was this type of construction more common during this time?
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 11:17 AM on March 17, 2008

Thank you for asking this question. I've had the "look away" part of this song stuck in my head since the late 90's, and I could not remember where the hell it was from. Almost daily I would subvocalize it, trying to figure out where the hell it was coming from, thinking it was a pop song of some kind that I couldn't remember the lyrics to. Thank you. Thank you thank you.
posted by cashman at 11:23 AM on March 17, 2008

I'd always read the last line in my mind as, "Look a-way down south to Dixie".

In that sense, I might say, "Look way over there at that smoke from the house fire!" (Midwestern-raised, so it might be idiomatic, dunno.)

The implication is that I'm asking the viewer to fix their gaze on something distant. In this case, that would be the homeland of Dixie, when one is apart from it.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2008

I think "away" here means a long distance, as someone might say "aways".

Dixie started as a minstrel song, sung in "dialect", this is more obvious as you look at the other stanzas.

The line "Away, away, away down south in Dixie" also suggests a long distance.
posted by Mercaptan at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2008

IAmBroom has it - its not "away" in comon English, but "Look a-way down tha'" that one would hear in a deep Southern accent.
posted by plaidrabbit at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2008

This article hints at another possible interpretation -- "away" is used in the archaic sense of "let's go to the place I want to go!" Something like, "Let's away to the battle, my brothers!"
posted by JanetLand at 11:38 AM on March 17, 2008

"looky there" means "look at that over there" in the southern idiom. "looky way" means "look that way."

"look away" is probably a transcription error by someone unfamiliar with the way us ignoramuses talk down south. :)
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:40 AM on March 17, 2008

Data point: most believe that "Dixie's Land" was written by a northerner who'd never been south of the M-D line, so the sort of mistake thinkingwoman describes could have been there from the beginning.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:43 AM on March 17, 2008

Yes, it was written by Daniel Emmett -- I had to look it up because I thought Stephen Foster (also a Northerner) might have written it, but didn't.

Doesn't answer your question, but I agree with most of the interpretations above.
posted by nnk at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2008

You must read Way Up North In Dixie, a well-written, fascinating study of this song that includes a detailed analysis of the lyrics. Here is how the publisher describes it:

"This book traces the lives of the Snowdens, an African American family of musicians and farmers living in rural Knox County, Ohio [town of Mount Vernon -- Dan Emmett's home town]. Howard L. Sacks and Judith Rose Sacks examine the Snowdens' musical and social exchanges with rural whites from the 1850s through the early 1920s and provide a detailed exploration of the claim that the Snowden family taught the song "Dixie" to Dan Emmett--the white musician and blackface minstrel credited with writing the song. This edition features a new introduction in which the authors discuss the public response to this controversial claim, and present new information on the Snowdens' musical and social experiences."
posted by partner at 1:30 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm just jumping in to thank partner for the book rec. I (a native Southerner) attended the college at which the professors Sacks teach but didn't know about that book - intriguing.
posted by naoko at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2008

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