Onwucheka Jemie: On "The Bitter River"
The most prolonged and deeply moving of Hughes's lynch poems is "The Bitter River," a dirge for two black youths lynched in Mississippi in 1942. Hughes conceives of the lynch terror as a bitter, poisonous river flowing through the South, a river at which black people have been forced to drink too long. Its water galls the taste, poisons the blood, and drowns black hopes. The "snake-like hiss of its stream" strangles black dreams. The bitter river reflects no stars, only the steel bars behind which are confined numberless innocents--the Scottsboro Boys, sharecroppers, and labor leaders. The bitter river makes nonsense of liberal rhetoric:
"Work, education, patience
Will bring a better day."
The swirl of the bitter river
Carries your "patience" away.
Patience is useless, the hope in work and education a slim and distant one. The poem ends in bitter complaint, weariness and gloom:
I'm tired of the bitter river!
Tired of the bars!
From Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. Copyright © 1976 by Columbia University Press.
|Title||Onwucheka Jemie: On "The Bitter River"||Type of Content||Criticism|
|Criticism Author||Onwucheka Jemie||Criticism Target||Langston Hughes|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||28 Sep 2015|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||Langston Hughes: An Introduction to The Poetry|
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