Robert Hayden Poems

Robert Hayden was an American poet born in 1913 in Detroit. He was the first African American to be appointed as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. A Ballad of Remembrance is one of his most important collections. It won the grand prize at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.

Night, Death, Mississippi

by Robert Hayden

‘Night, Death, Mississippi’ by Robert Hayden is a historical narrative told mostly from the perspective of a Klansman. In the poem, the Klansman lauds his son for lynching black men while telling of the days he himself participated in the perpetration of racial violence.

'Night, Death, Mississippi' is one of Hayden's more popular poems. It tackles the very sensitive and even dangerous issue of the Ku Klux Klan, especially at a time when a third generation of the Klan was still reforming. Hayden's bravery in not only writing this poem but also in taking on the voice of a Klansman as a black person cemented this poem in the hearts of its readers and, as it appears, in history as well.

Then we beat them, he said,

beat them till our arms was tired

and the big old chains

messy and red.