Study Guide

Song for a Dark Girl Sound Check

By Langston Hughes

Sound Check

Grab your harmonica, and maybe a guitar. It's time to sing the blues, Shmoopers. We know you've got it in you.

We mean, the poem's called a "Song" for crying out loud. It begs to be given notes. There's even an allusion to a pretty famous song three times in this short poem—the line "Way Down South in Dixie" echoes the unofficial Confederate anthem from the Civil War, "Dixie."

But this girl is not repeating the rousing sentiments and joyful rhythms of "Dixie" with her song. No, she's joining in a music that was becoming prominent at the time this poem was written—the blues. She's like Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey—soulful, sad, and moving. The fate of her lover may be too painful to look at directly, but if she can't do anything, at least she can sing about it. And she sings with a rhythm, a distinct beat.

Part of what makes this poem so distinct is that Hughes puts lots of single-syllable words right next to each other, each deserving of their own weight and stress—"Way Down South," "black young lover," "cross roads tree." As you read the poem aloud, you have to land—hard—on each of those words. You can't skip over them. You can't rush.