Langston Hughes

Suicide’s Note by Langston Hughes

‘Suicide’s Note’ is a three-line poem that speaks from the perspective of someone who wants to take their own life. They feel the “cool face” of the river asking them for a “kiss.”

This is a short, incredibly powerful poem was first published in 1926 in Langston Hughes’ debut collection, The Weary Blues. This collection is considered to be one of the most important books of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary movement that occurred around the New York neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s.

Suicide’s Note’ maybe only be three lines long, but readers can interpret a great deal about the speaker and their feelings about death from the poet’s use of imagery.

Suicide's Note by Langston Hughes


Summary

Suicide’s Note’ by Langston Hughes is a short emotional poem that speaks very simply and peacefully on life, suicide, and death.

The poem begins with the speaker using two short words to describe the atmosphere, “The calm.” This phrase speaks to the atmosphere the speaker experienced and that in the poem itself. The speaker describes how he stood before a river and looked down into its waters. ‘Suicide’s Note’ concludes with the river’s “Cool face,” asking the speaker “for a kiss.” It is unclear whether or not he accepted, but considering the title, he most likely did.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Line One

The calm,

The first line of ‘Suicide’s Note’ is only two words long, but they’re striking. Hughes sets the scene for the reader by describing something as “The calm.” Since there are no prior details or explanations to help one understand what is “calm” or where this “calm” state is taking place, a reader has to make their own assumptions.

“The calm” seems to refer to a general sense of being, or maybe a force that comes over one’s body and mind in a peaceful moment. For instance, it is easy to imagine someone saying, “the calm washed over the scene.” In this case, the calm is revealed to be all around the speaker. But, it is most prominent in “the river.” 

Line Two 

This body of water, which exists in a void with no additional details, holds all the feelings of peace the speaker is looking for. At this point, and perhaps even by the time a reader gets to the end of the poem, it is clearly depicted as an appealing place or state of being. 

When the speaker looks into the river, he sees it as having a “Cool face.” This is a reference to the temperature of the water. By personifying the water (giving it a face as a human would have), Hughes is trying to create a certain emotion within the reader. Overwhelmingly, the tone of the poem is meditative and relaxed. The speaker, who is relaying his experience through three short lines, delivers them calmly. They’re simple statements that are free from agitation or impatience. 

The most interesting part of this line is the fact that the river is looking back up at the speaker. There is a connection between them, and as the entire poem alludes to, an understanding. 

Line Three

Asked me for a kiss.

It is in the final line that a reader will remember the title of the poem, ‘Suicide’s Note.’ With its humanized face, the river encourages the speaker to lean down and touch his own face to the water. At least, that’s what the line says on the surface. When one considers the title, the act becomes much darker. It is clear the river is asking him to submerge himself and allow his body to sink down into its depths. 

The river is promoting a closeness between the speaker and itself that will conclude with the speaker’s death. But, one might ask, is it really doing this? The answer is likely no. Hughes, or the speaker through which he told this story, was pondering suicide and found himself by the side of this river. With the calm surrounding them, and the river beckoning, he may or may not have allowed himself to “kiss” its surface. 

One final aspect of the text that’s interesting to consider is whether or not the speaker chose to enter the river. The ending is far from definitive, and it is possible this speaker was describing his experience from beyond the grave. But there’s no way to know for sure.

Structure and Form

‘Suicide’s Note’ by Langston Hughes is a short, three-line poem that is contained within one stanza. The lines themselves are also short. In total, there are only twelve words in the whole poem. Hughes did not choose to make use of a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, meaning that the piece is written in free verse. Despite this, the poet did make use of several literary devices that help to give the poem a rhythmic feeling and add to its impact on the reader. These can be considered below.

Literary Devices

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:

  • Personification: can be seen through the poet’s description of the river asking thier narrator “for a kiss.”
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example: “calm” and “cool” in the first and second lines. 
  • Enjambment: occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. This occurs once in ‘Suicide’s Note’ between the second and third lines.
  • Imagery: appears when the poet uses particularly effective descriptions. For example, “Cool face of the river.” The poem is quite short, so, when the poet does use images they are incredibly important.
  • Allusion: can be seen when the poet references something outside the text of the poem. In this case, suicide. Without the title, the reader would have to use the body of the text as the only clue as to what the speaker is talking about.


FAQs

What is the theme of ‘Suicide’s Note?’

Suicide’s Note’ tackles a few of Hughes’s most commonly addressed themes, life, hopelessness, suicide, and death. Suicide, because of the title, is the most prominent of the four. In this text, taking one’s life is depicted as a peaceful, “calm” act.

What is the purpose of ‘Suicide’s Note?’

The purpose is to explore the emotions associated with suicide from the perspective of someone who wants to or has, taken their own life. Although the poem is short, readers can interpret a great deal from the speaker’s use of words. They see death as something peaceful and entrancing.

What is the meaning of ‘Suicide’s Note?’

The meaning is that for someone who is suffering, death can seem ideal and peaceful. The speaker alludes to the fact through the three short lines of the poem. The poet’s use of personification helps readers understand exactly how the speaker sees death calling them.

What is the tone of ‘Suicide’s Note?’

The tone is peaceful and calm. The speaker accepts their emotions (a desire to take their own life), and if the title is taken at face value, then readers can assume that they have committed suicide by drowning. There is nothing in the speaker’s tone that suggests that this is a frightening act or something that the speaker is hesitant about.

When was ‘Suicide’s Note’ by Langston Hughes published?

This poem was published in Langston Hughes’ first collection, The Weary Blues, in 1926. It’s unclear when precisely the poem was written.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Langston Hughes poems. For example: 

  • Beale Street Love – a short, powerful poem that speaks on the nature of love on Beale Street, an African American cultural hub.
  • Dreams’ – focuses on the importance of dreams and how they might die. 
  • Democracy’ – is focused on the fight for equal rights under the law including the ability to vote for African Americans.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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