“Life Is Fine”
Langston Hughes

I went down to the river,

I set down on the bank.

I tried to think but couldn’t,

So I jumped in and sank.


I came up once and hollered!

I came up twice and cried!

If that water hadn’t a-been so cold

I might’ve sunk and died.


But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!


I took the elevator

Sixteen floors above the ground.

I thought about my baby

And thought I would jump down.


I stood there and I hollered!

I stood there and I cried!

If it hadn’t a-been so high

I might’ve jumped and died.


But it was High up there! It was high!


So since I’m still here livin’,

I guess I will live on.

I could’ve died for love–

But for livin’ I was born


Though you may hear me holler,

And you may see me cry–

I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,

If you gonna see me die.


Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!


Langston Hughes was known in his lifetime for his unique portrayal of the average black American through his works. Being left to live with his grandmother at the fault of his parent’s divorce, only to return to his mother, ultimately led to his entrance into the poetry scene. What separates Hughes from other notable black poets of the age was his refusal to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to write about the actual culture of his people. Hughes was largely influenced by the works of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg, and bits and pieces of their trademark techniques can be seen in some of Hughes’s poems.

Poetic Technique

Quatrain: a stanza with four lines, especially one having alternate rhymes

Hughes’s “Life Is Fine” is a prime example of quatrain. There are 6 examples throughout, and between each one, there is a one line exclamation. Every two paired together coincide to tell a short story, and they have a rhyme scheme that is consistent throughout.


The theme of this poem refers to the disillusion that people often have about death. When there is something extremely difficult and melancholic which may seem impossible to overcome, death is often considered the only outlet. By demonstrating how the man struggles with forcing himself to death and at the end he becomes more conscious of what he has been given, Hughes introduces the concepts of life being “fine as wine” and how people should appreciate it instead of easily giving it away. “Life is fine” by Langston Hughes successfully conveys one of the most fundamental laws of human existence: life is sacred and we should not give it away. Through the situation that is brought out in the poem, Hughes depicts death as the only escape from the reality. Life and death may seem to be two extremely opposite concepts, but if humans could not be enlightened soon enough; the distance between life and death is just a jump away as described in the poem.  “Life is fine” not only addresses a typical scenario when people comes to death as an option to end everything, but it is also a meaningful lesson for everyone to reflect on themselves.

Hughes is very playful about death, and almost plays it down in the poem. However, when he gives his reasons for not jumping or drowning, it is simply that it was “high” or “cold.” At the end of the poem, Hughes is finally accepting of the fact that he doesn’t really want to die. He saw it as an escape from everything in his life, and needed the instant relief. But the line

“I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,

If you gonna see me die.”

implies that he finally gathers just what it means to die, and would rather live. He is almost smug about it. He’s seeming to look at death in the face and laugh, perhaps teasing him. He won’t let death get the best of him. There was an error is his thoughts, he realized, and he was angry at both himself and death for making him want to die. He’d rather live his “fine as wine” life. It’s an important message to convey to anyone, really. Life is hard at times, it really, really, is; however, it’s all we’ve got.


life is fine visual

Source: http://sherlock.soup.io/post/337902730/Steven-Moffat-on-how-Sherlock-survived-the

Visual Explanation

This picture shows a man jumping down from a rooftop. (Don’t worry, it’s from the TV show Sherlock.) What he has done by jumping is what Hughes almost did. This person jumping never had the revelation that Hughes did. The poem says

“I stood there and I hollered!

I stood there and I cried!

If it hadn’t a-been so high

I might’ve jumped and died.”

and Hughes was able to not jump. He realized that he couldn’t do it; life is plainly too precious to give away so easily. The worst thing is that not enough people are able to realize this. Suicide rates are rising, and the means at which to ensure that they lower is unbeknownst to many. Not enough people have the revelation that Hughes did, and we see the impacts of that everyday. The poem is a playful jab at death, almost suggesting that, “Hey, I beat you already. What can you throw at me now?”




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