Beale Street Love
by Langston Hughes
Lines 6-7 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Hit me again,
- Wait a minute. What's this all about? Suddenly, it seems like someone is talking to us (but we don't know who yet), or perhaps to the fist, or to the man to whom that fist belongs, or to love. Phew. That's an awful lot of possibilities.
- Whatever the case, this line introduces a specific person into the poem. Whoever this speaker is, he or she is asking, or demanding to be hit again by this fist, or by love.
- See, that's the problem here. We could be dealing with a very real and violent situation: the speaker wants to be hit by a fist. Or we could be dealing with a more metaphorical one: the speaker wants more love, even if it hurts. Which scenario do you think the poem is depicting?
- Even if this violence is painful and causing damage, whoever is speaking here is demanding that it happen again, for reasons we don't yet know. We can't be sure what the tone of this phrase is. It could be angry, egging on a predator, resigned to its fate, or even threatening, as if the speaker of this line is saying if you hit me again, there will be consequences.
- There it is, folks: mystery solved. "Hit me again" is spoken by a woman, named Clorinda.
- Dropping this name puts a whole new spin on a poem. This no longer seems like an ambiguous metaphorical description of violent love. We're dealing with a battered woman and her batterer.
- We have been thinking of the love that the speaker mentions in the first line as the love that occurs on Beale Street. Now we know that that specific kind of love – Beale Street love – is violent toward women, at least in the eyes of the speaker. Perhaps he is implying something like, "On Beale Street, love means hitting your girl." That's a chilling thought, for sure.
- Let's take a moment to think about the name Clorinda. It's not exactly common, is it? In fact, it's a name we've seen in literature before. Clorinda is a character in an epic poem called Jerusalem Delivered, by the Italian poet Tasso. In Jerusalem Delivered, Clorinda was a white girl, born to African parents. A warrior, she was also accidentally killed in battle by her lover.
- Of course we can't prove that Hughes was purposely alluding to the poem, but do you think her story just might shed some light on Beale Street's Clorinda? How so?
- Oh, and now that we've seen the whole poem, we can see that it looks a bit like a fist, doesn't it? It's a dense little nugget of words, and it's all one sentence, with love as the thumb. Hughes was one clever dude.
- Finally, now that we have reached the end of the sentence, we have everything we need to figure this poem out. But what are we left with? A metaphor for love, sure. But that metaphor is a harrowing one, and shows us a vision of love as violence against women.
- That means we're left with two possible interpretations: (1) Love on Beale Street is violent. It's common there for men to hit their girlfriends and wives. (2) This is all metaphorical. Love is often painful, but not actually violent.
- Of course these two interpretations give us two very different views of Clorinda. According to the first interpretation, she is a battered woman, no doubt about it. But according to the second, she is a woman in love, and she's looking for more of that passion.
- So which is it, awesome readers? How do you read this poem?
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