blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

On "Flight"


James Smethurst

Gone is the calmly contemplative speaker [in Hughes’ Dear Lovely Death] who talks authoritatively and welcomingly of death. Instead the poem's narration is breathless, filled with fear and dissonant voices. The primary speaker of the poem appears to be a partisan observer of lynch violence, urging the fleeing victim onward. However, the voice of the pursued man interrupts the speaker ("No, I didn't touch her / While flesh ain't for me."), as African-American vernacular speech appears directly in the collection for the first time. There is a blurring between the speaker and the subject of the poem, particularly in the last two lines of the poem where the primary speaker's voice changes into a somewhat more colloquial voice ("Hurry! Black Boy, hurry! / They'll swing you from a tree!"). This blurring differs from earlier claims of the commonalty of all humanity in the face of death, asserting instead a common racial identity between the speaker and the southern African-American folk subject when pursued by a very specific form of death.

From The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946. Copyright 1999 by Oxford University Press.


Return to Langston Hughes