Poem #41: Bound No'th Blues by Langston Hughes

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

Title: Bound No'th Blues

Langston Hughes

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


Goin’ down the road, Lawd,
Goin’ down the road.
Down the road, Lawd,
Way, way down the road.
Got to find somebody
To help me carry this load.

Road’s in front o’ me,
Nothin’ to do but walk.
Road’s in front of me,
Walk…an’ walk…an’ walk.
I’d like to meet a good friend
To come along an’ talk.

Hates to be lonely,
Lawd, I hates to be sad.
Says I hates to be lonely,
Hates to be lonely an’ sad,
But ever friend you finds seems
Like they try to do you bad.

Road, road, road, O!
Road, road…road…road, road!
Road, road, road, O!
On the no’thern road.
These Mississippi towns ain’t
Fit fer a hoppin’ toad.


The first thing that comes to mind when I read this is to wonder a rhythm or melody which to read this.  I remember a trick that I was taught when reading Emily Dickinson to get the rhythm of her poems and it was to align the wording with the tune from Gilligan's Island and it worked surprisingly well.  I'm less familiar with what or even if, Hughes had a tune in mind for this but between the title and the repetition, it seems like there should be a tune.  

Beyond that, it's an interesting poem that captures the Great Migration--a major exodus of Black people from the South to the North in the early-to-mid 20th century.  We see early on that the speaker has a load to bear and needs help with it but the speaker can't find friends or people he trusts in Mississipi.  This idea that the speaker is friendless or finds no comfort in places like Mississippi seems relevant given its violence past (see exhibit A).   

One thing I might have stumbled upon here is in looking at the repetition of road, he says it 11 times in a row in the fourth stanza before declaring he is "on the no'thern road".  Which means he is leaving the south (indicated by the mention of Mississippi). Yet, in mentioning road 11 times, it's curious that is the same number of states that succeeded from the Union in the Civil War--that amount of states that collectively made the "South."  So, Hughes is not just speaking to the present migration (in response to Jim Crow segregation and violence) but also tying it into the legacy of enslavement and war.

Those are my thoughts.  What did you find interesting about the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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