As we move from one year to the next – 2012 into 2013 – we can all learn from an American ‘jazz’ poet, Langston Hughes, particularly noted for his work during the

Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

He wrote poems, stories, plays, fiction and non-fiction books.

Life is Fine is a poem which crosses all racial barriers and can speak to everyone.

It takes the reader of a journey of lost love and attempts at suicide until, finally, the realisation hits that life is worth living after all.

Life Is Fine

I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.

But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!

I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.

But it was High up there! It was high!

So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love–
But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry–
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!

We see the character go to the river to think; try to come to terms with a lost
love. When he cannot think, like so many people who find no other solution, he
jumps in the river – an attempt to commit suicide.

The cold suddenly brings him to his senses – as Langston writes
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.

He then repeats ‘cold’, almost as if saying the name of his saviour.

We then follow our character up 16 floors of a building. Once again, he thinks about
his love and considers jumping.

This time it is the height which puts him off (repeating ‘high’ in a similar fashion to
that of ‘cold’).

It’s after this attempt that he realises that life is worth living. There are some things worse than his current predicament (getting over his fear of height and fear of the cold) – suddenly realising that his lost love is not worth going through further trauma in order to solve it. Life is, in fact, fine. Some people have analysed the poem, suggesting the referral to the ‘cold river’ was

the character jumping into a cold relationship. He could have drowned in that
relationship if he had not realised its suffocating effect.

Similarly with the elevator to the 16th floor –
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down

A suggestion here is that he pictures his love and would jump into their open arms – again, the warning of ‘height’ stops him entering a doomed relationship.

Yet we then read:
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Suggesting the poem is more about suicide than a potentially doomed
relationship. He chooses not to die but to live on – the pain of his lover seeing him
commit suicide is too much.

He chooses life over death.

 

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