Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.
Cheerful title, I know. This poem was written Langston Hughes. For those of you who don’t know, he was an African-American short story writer, song lyricist, radio writer, lecturer, playwright, and translator, and poet. Yeah, he was a busy guy. He wrote in the early to mid-1900s.
Now, the most distinctive aspect of this poem is its brevity. It’s only three lines long, a mere twelve words. This isn’t one of those long eloquent poems. The vocabulary won’t blow you away; the rhetoric isn’t of the charts. It doesn’t even rhyme for Pete’s sake! This isn’t your traditional poem. But, there is beauty in its distinctiveness and wonder in its conciseness. Every. Single. Word. Matters. Each word has been closely scrutinized, none are superfluous. Say it was longer, it would lose its poignant simplicity.
Langston Hughes use of personification makes an otherwise gloomy prospect seem welcoming. First of all, he chose a river to be the metaphor for death. Out of all the things he could’ve chosen, he chose a body of water. Not just any body of water, a river. It characterizes death as fluid and complex and cleansing. Secondly the river had a calm, cool face. Giving the river (death) a face, makes it seem welcoming, inviting even. Lastly, Hughes gave the river a human action: asking for a kiss. This kiss is implied to be suicide. This beautiful euphemism says that it was the author’s choice, he/she wasn’t forced into it. They were just adhering to the whims of the river. An otherwise gruesome scene becomes a beautiful goodbye.
The title is another critical part of this poem. Without the title, you’d have a completely different perception of the poem. The poem seems to be about someone basking in the joys of nature, connecting with it on an intimate level. When you add the title into the mix, the connection becomes much deeper and darker. A fatal connection.
If this wasn’t a poem, it could still communicate the same message. This is probably because it so short. Say this was a dialogue spoken by a character, it could still be effective. Assuming that the words stayed the same.
Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication
-Leonardo da Vinci