Song For a Dark Girl by Langston Hughes

Song For a Dark Girl’ is a short but incredibly memorable poem. After reading it, the reader is left to dwell on themes such as racial inequality, violence, and love lost. Hughes uses clear diction that conveys the meaning of the poem in a direct fashion. There are a few moments in which the syntax is rearranged in order to make lines feel more poetic and rhythmic, but not so much so that the meaning is obscured. 

Song For a Dark Girl by Langston Hughes

 

Summary of Song For a Dark Girl

Song For a Dark Girl’ by Langston Hughes is a darkly depressing poem that depicts the death of a young black man and his lover’s heartbreak.

The poem describes through simple stanzas the loss that this young woman has suffered. Her young black lover has been lynched and strung up in a crossroads tree, an image that alludes to the death of Christ on the cross. Her heart is broken and her world transformed. God doesn’t comfort her and she feels as though her prayers are useless. Now, all love is represented by that shadowed, naked body. 

 

Structure of Song For a Dark Girl

Song For a Dark Girl’ by Langston Hughes is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds in the second stanza. Then, in the third, the same “B” rhymes (“me” and “tree”) are used again. Additionally, Hughes makes use of a refrain, repeated in the first line of each stanza.

 

Literary Devices in Song For a Dark Girl

Hughes makes use of several literary devices in ‘Song For a Dark Girl’. These include but are not limited to allusion, metaphor, and repetition. The first, allusion, is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. The clearest example of this technique is seen through the repeated reference to “Dixie,” a famous 19th-century song that celebrates the American South. The line “Way Down South in Dixie” comes straight from the lyrics.

At the height of its popularity, the song as sung in racist minstrel shows in which the performers wore blackface. These performances were centered around demeaning depictions of African Americans. A reader can’t get through this piece without realizing the irony inherent in the title, ‘Song For a Dark Girl,’ and the tragic content of the poem. 

Repetition is seen through the use of a refrain, or a line that’s repeated in whole several times in a poem. In this case, the lyric: “Way Down South in Dixie”. It is used at the beginning of all three stanzas, a reminder to the reader of the true nature of “Dixie,” or the American South.

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In the last lines of the poem, the speaker compares love to “a naked shadow,” that of her dead lover. The poem ends on this tragic and disturbing note, leaving the reader to dwell on the reality of lynching and the treatment of African Americans throughout history. 

 

Analysis of Song For a Dark Girl

Stanza One 

Way Down South in Dixie

(…)

To a cross roads tree.

In the first stanza of ‘Song For a Dark Girl’ the speaker, a young woman, describes the death of her “black young lover”. He was lunched and hung in a “cross roads tree”. The “song” aspect of this poem is incredibly tragic. It is more of a lament than anything else. His death broke the girl’s heart. The second line, which conveys this fact, is lovely. It reads “Break the heart of me”. This is a great example of how the syntax of a poem can be rearranged in order to make the phrases sound more poetic.

By using the line “Way Down South in Dixie” the poet is intentionally juxtaposing two different experiences of the south. The first, that of a white man who longs for the glory days of the past and that of the black woman who knows the true nature of those days. 

It should also be noted that the speaker used “They” to describe those who killed her lover. She does not go into detail about who these people are, its left up to the reader to decide that. 

 

Stanza Two 

Way Down South in Dixie

(Bruised body high in air)

(…)

The second stanza and the third, of ‘Song For a Dark Girl’ also begin with the refrain “Way Down South in Dixie”. It is followed by another phrase in parentheses, this time describing his body in the air. This is a short line that makes sure the reader understands that the young man was beaten before his death, a very mild allusion to what was likely a graphic and horrifying death. There is also an element of detachment in the way the speaker describes the body. It is not “his” body but just “body”. 

There is an emphasis in the third line on the whiteness of Jesus. She turns to him for help but at the same time, she is reminding everyone that he too is white. There is also a connection to be made between the death of this young black man on a “cross roads tree” and that of Christ, also a young man, on the cross. 

She asks, without expecting an answer or even using a question mark, what the use is in praying to a white god as a black woman. There is also desperation in these lines that is palpable. This is emphasized through the rhymed connection between “air” and “prayer,” as if there is nothing to the act at all. It is as empty as “air”.  

 

Stanza Three 

(…)

Love is a naked shadow

On a gnarled and naked tree.

The next two lines of ‘Song For a Dark Girl’ are exact replicas of the first two lines of the poem. She uses the refrain again while also referencing her broken heart. The last lines are a metaphor. She compares love to a “naked shadow / On a gnarled and naked tree”. This is a direct reference to the body of her lover.

The body has become a representative of the love she used to have with him, a dark and disturbing image. This event was so terrible, so tragic, and transformative that the girl has lost her love, her faith, and even the world seems to change. The tree is “gnarled,” adding to the overall distortion of the landscape and her emotional state. 

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