Beale Street Love
by Langston Hughes
Analysis: Sound Check
This poem packs a punch with every line. From line 1, we're hit with blow after blow of stressed, or emphasized syllables: "Love." If any word packs a wallop, it's that one.
Then we have many more examples of powerful syllables that plunk themselves down on the page, like "brown man's fist." The repetition of three single syllable words slows us down when we read it, so we feel the full weight of the words. The poem never lulls us into dreamy descriptions or longwinded explanations. It bowls us over with its simple sounds, and then leaves us hanging in uncertainty.
Once we get down to the sixth line, we're used to being pummeled by the sounds of this poem, but this one is the knockout blow. The sound of the words "hit me again" is intense, especially after the double whammy of punctuation slowing us down at the end of line five. Even if this line can be read to mean many different things (all of which carry with them different vocal inflections), no matter what way you read it aloud, it's full of strong, stressed sounds.
The last line marks a bit of a shift, though. The name Clorinda has a musical quality to it. Imagine if, in its place, Hughes had chosen Betty or Jane. "Clorinda" is a pretty end to a very unpretty poem, and it allows the poem to drift off into silence. We're down for the count.
One more thing. Langston Hughes was known for incorporating jazz and blues music into his poetry, and we can't help but notice a little jazzy feel to this small poem. The improvisational feel of the lines, and the unpredictable percussion of the rhythm make this poem a classic example of Hughes' jazz sound.