Langston Hughes (1902-1967) became the symbol of the Harlem Renaissance for his works that reflected the oppression experienced by blacks in the early 20th century. Though he wrote stories and plays, Hughes poetry seems to define him as a preeminent writer of the time. "Song for a Dark Girl” paints a haunting picture of a woman lamenting the lynching of her lover in the South. Hughes uses vivid language and symbols to visualize the setting and exemplify the suffering felt by a Southern black woman when there seems to be no savior.
Hughes emphasizes the setting of “Song for a Dark Girl” by repeating it at the beginning of each stanza. He says “Way Down South in Dixie” three times in the poem, as if he wants the readers to feel where the poem is taking place. In addition to the repetition, he capitalizes each word of the first line to make sure every one knows that the song takes place in the South.
The poem contains numerous references comparing the lynched young man to Jesus, making his a symbol wrongful execution. For example, it says the man is hung “to a cross roads tree” (line 4), thus creating an image of a martyr who sacrifices his life in an unfair world. Hughes wants readers to see the young man as Christ like by not spelling cross roads as “crossroads,” its traditional spelling. Crossroads are also pretty traveled areas, so he would be an example to anyone passing by the site.
Hughes also describes the appearance of the young man’s body as he hangs on the tree, descriptions similar to those used to describe Jesus at his death. In the second stanza, he describes the man’s “bruised body high in air” (line 6). The young man is likely severely beaten before his being hung on a tree in a public place.
The narrator of the poem also reveals her helplessness about the death of her young lover. Twice she uses the phrase “break the heart of me” (lines 2, 10). Using the phrase twice emphasizes the heart she feels at the loss of her lover. Her heart is just as broken as the body of the lynched young man.
The narrator feels that even Jesus himself has abandoned her in a time of need. The poem reads, “I asked the white Lord Jesus what was the use of prayer” (lines 7, 8). Referring to the Christ as “white Lord Jesus” evokes images of famous pictures that depict him as blond-haired and blue-eyed. For the narrator, Jesus is not different from the whites who executed her lover.
Langston Hughes creates an imaginative poetic work that when writing “Song for a Dark Girl.” The narrative poem tells the mournful story of a woman whose lover has been lynched. He uses literary tools like repetition and symbolism to illustrate her helplessness and how she feels that no one can help, not even Jesus himself. The poem is an artful depiction of atrocities in the South.