The South

The lazy, laughing South
With blood on its mouth.
The sunny-faced South,
The child-minded South
Scratching in the dead fire's ashes
For a Negro's bones.
Cotton and the moon,
Warmth, earth, warmth,
The sky, the sun, the stars,
The magnolia-scented South.
Beautiful, like a woman,
Seductive as a dark-eyed whore,
Passionate, cruel,
Honey-lipped, syphilitic —
That is the South.
And I, who am black, would love her
But she spits in my face.
And I, who am black,
Would give her many rare gifts
But she turns her back upon me.
So now I seek the North —
The cold-faced North,
For she, they say,
Is a kinder mistress,
And in her house my children
May escape the spell of the South.
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Hnnhbiie30's picture

"The South" by Langston Hughes

In Langston Hughes' poem "The South," readers are transported to a landscape filled with contrasts and contradictions, where beauty and brutality coexist in a complex tapestry of emotions. Through vivid imagery and poignant language, Hughes explores themes of racism, identity, and longing, inviting readers to confront the harsh realities of the American South.

The poem opens with a stark portrayal of the South as "lazy" and "laughing," yet tainted by the violence and oppression of its past: "With blood on its mouth." This juxtaposition sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as Hughes delves into the paradoxes of Southern life and culture.
Hughes describes the South as "sunny-faced" and "beast-strong," yet "idiot-brained" and "child-minded." This portrayal reflects the conflicting perceptions of the region, which is often romanticized for its natural beauty and hospitality, yet plagued by ignorance and bigotry. The image of the South "scratching in the dead fire's ashes for a Negro's bones" speaks to the legacy of slavery and racial violence that continues to haunt the region.

Despite its flaws, Hughes portrays the South as a seductive and alluring mistress, with its "magnolia-scented" air and "passionate, cruel" nature. This duality is further emphasized through vivid descriptions likening the South to a "beautiful" woman, yet "syphilitic" and "cruel." These conflicting images highlight the complexities of Southern identity and the fraught relationship between black Americans and the land of their birth.
As a black man, the speaker expresses a profound sense of longing and betrayal towards the South. Despite his desire to love her, she "spits in [his] face" and rejects his offerings. This rejection symbolizes the systemic racism and discrimination faced by African Americans in the South, where even acts of love and kindness are met with scorn and contempt.

In the final lines of the poem, the speaker turns his gaze towards the North, seeking refuge from the oppressive forces of the South. He sees the North as a "kinder mistress," where his children may find solace and escape from the "spell of the South." This longing for freedom and equality reflects the broader African American experience of migration and displacement in search of a better life.

In conclusion, "The South" by Langston Hughes is a powerful exploration of race, identity, and belonging in America. Through its evocative imagery and poignant language, Hughes invites readers to confront the harsh realities of Southern life while also acknowledging its enduring beauty and allure. The poem serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality in the United States, urging readers to confront the legacies of the past and work towards a more inclusive future.

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