John Hatcher: On "Night, Death, Mississippi"

Hayden uses a family of lychers in this poem to illustrate . . . the possibility of inherited evil becoming 'diastole, systole,/ reflex action'. Returning home at night after mutilating Black men, this rural father jovially relates to the mother how it went:


Then we beat them, he said,

beat them till our arms was tired

and the big old chains messy and red.


In dehumanized logic, the lyncher analyzes the thrill he experiences from this debased act:


Christ, it was better

than hunting bear

which don't know why

you want him dead.


The invocation to Christ here ironically recalls the crucifixion, and the whole tone of the narration implies that this sanctioned perversity is, like the mentality at the death camp, a reversal of affirmative conviction and a clear index to the depth of the diver's descent into darkness.


Title John Hatcher: On "Night, Death, Mississippi" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author John Hatcher Criticism Target Robert Hayden
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication From the Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden
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