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Analysis of ‘Life is Fine’ by Langston Hughes

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Life is Fine

Langston Hughes whose full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1st 1902 in Missouri. He was a well-known poet, playwright, columnist and social activist. As a writer and social activist Hughes called for cultural nationalism and racial consciousness and he was considered as a pioneer of Harlem Renaissance. His thought united people of African descent all over the world and he made them feel proud of their descent. Hughes also influenced the music scene with his emphasis on jazz and folk rhythms in his poems. . He was a big inspirationfor many black artists like Léopold Sédar Senghor,  Nicolás Guillén, Jacques Roumain and Aimé Césaire. His works were devoid of self-hate. Hughes died on May 22nd1967.

‘Life is fine’ is considered to be a spirited ditty as he talks about living in spite of the trials and tribulations of life. He went down to the river and sat on its bank trying to think. Think of what is not mentioned .Since he could not think he jumped into the river. As the water was so cold, he hollered and cried and came up twice and finally clambered back to the bank. He felt that if the water was not so cold, he might have sank and died. In the second and third stanza Hughes talks about taking his life through a different method. He takes the elevator and reaches the sixteenth floor and thought of his lover and wanted to jump down. But here too he cried and hollered because he was standing so high but he could not jump because it was too high. Had it not been so high he might have jumped. Did he forget that he was the one who took the elevator to the sixteenth floor to kill himself?

So after two failed attempts at suicide, Hughes realises he is alive and therefore will continue to live. He might have died for his love but he understands that he was born to live. Although he has decided to live, it’s not without its problems. So he continues to holler and cry but he will not succumb to it and think of death. He was going to live as ‘life was fine’.

 

‘Life is Fine’ has six stanzas with four lines in each stanza. There is one signature line at the end of each stanza. This single line concludes the thought of the stanza that precedes it. There is no specific rhyme scheme but with the repetitions of the words ‘hollered, cried, died’ one is given a feel of a rhyme. So too the single line stands out with its similar pattern. The tone seems pensive initially but in the second set of quatrains he makes fun of himself and in the last set he is out of the thoughts of death. When he is sitting near the river, the reader is not aware of the reason for him to jump into the river. In the third stanza it is clear he was upset with his love. In the first stanza, jumping into the river was an act on the spur therefore he wanted to escape the freezing waters. In the next attempt it is a conscious decision to go up sixteen floors. He knew pretty well that he was going to be standing high, far away from the ground yet he gives height as the reason for not jumping. This shows the lighter vein of the poem.  The final line of the poem has a positive note ‘Life is fine.’Then he writes ‘Fine as wine’ and one wonders if this reverses the positive vibe. Is he planning to resort to drinking to forget his love?  Some questions are not answered and the reader can choose to answer them.