In the poem “Life is Fine”, Langston Hughes, the poet, also a novelist, fiction writer, and playwright, expresses his optimism after his attempts of ending his life which in turn end up making him feel alive. He comments “Since I’m still livin’ here, I guess I’ll live on” meaning he wants to live more.
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Life is Fine
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
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!
Analysis of Hughes’ “Life is Fine”
The free-spirited and jovial “Life is Fine” is one of Langston Hughes’ more notable pieces. The poem portrays a man’s despair and his optimism despite that melancholy. Resembling the blues structure, the poem’s six stanzas each has a varied refrain at the end of each tone, which the poet used to emphasize the message he wants to get across via repetitions, making the poem energetic and melodic.
The narrator describes a scenery of a riverside where he went to think, only to not be able to. In order to relieve the anguish, he resolves to drown himself but finds the water too cold, making him come back up for air and “hollering” loudly. The cold water served him the awakening he needed and prevented him from committing suicide.
The narrator then takes an elevator and goes up sixteen floors thinking about the sorrow arousing within him because of his “baby”. The inner turmoil he faces due to his romantic endeavours turning sour, leads him to consider jumping down. But, he sees how far down the jump it is and can’t do it. Similar to the coldness of the water, the height is also his reason to abstain from suicide.
The tone of the poem then shifts to the writer contemplating his failed suicide attempts leading to him conceding to life. He accepts that he could have died for love but he will live on as expressed in the poem; “But for livin’, I was born”. The narrator then accepts the fact that he may still cry, that he may still not find completion nor peace but even then, he would not let his “baby” see him pass. By confronting death, the writer has rediscovered his sense of purpose and that will let him live on. “Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!” the last refrain gives the poem its title and expresses the bittersweet melancholy of life.