Life Is Fine

Life Is Fine

By 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!

Summary of Life Is Fine

  • Popularity of “Life Is Fine”: Written by an iconic African American poet, essayist, playwright, and writer, Langston Hughes, this poem presents the suicidal thoughts of the speaker. It first appeared in 1949 and, since then, has appeared in several school textbooks as well as collections of poetry. “Life is Fine” is not just about suicidal thoughts and optimism; it is a document of the despaired life that rises up from the ashes with a bang. This bang has made this poem popular even in the non-English speaking world.
  • “Life Is Fine” As a Representative of Optimism: The speaker is the first person who speaks about his disappointment in life to the point of his thinking about committing suicide and then openly expressing why he desisted from it. The speaker states that once he was so disappointed that he went down to the riverbank and tried to think of committing suicide and jumped into the river. However, he came out unscathed because of the coldness of the water. Otherwise, he might have drowned. Then he tried to jump from a skyscraper after he went up with an elevator on the sixteenth floor but could not jump as he thought about his kids and came down after crying out. This saved his life again despite being at that height with suicidal thoughts.
    Finally, he thought about his life and his present situation and thought that he would continue living as he was born to live, or else he could have died for love. He thinks that he cannot die as he has witnessed that life is fine and enjoyable as wine.
  • Major Themes in “Life Is Fine”: Suicide, desperate moments in life, and the significance of life are three major themes of this poem. All these themes lead the poet to think about the life that is akin to wine for him after he has gone through it. Although different trials and tribulations are implicit, the poet has thought about committing suicide by jumping into the river, but the coldness of the water saved him. Then he again tried from a high-rise building, but the thoughts of his son saved him. Therefore, he decides to sail through the desperate movements of his life after he comes to understand how life is important to him. This has made him optimistic about the thrilling moments of life that seem to him like wine. This significance of life dawns upon him after he has gone through harrowing moments, yet he desists from ending it.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Life Is Fine

Langston Hughes never used any literary device without a purpose. He has shown his dexterity through these devices as follows.

  1. Anaphora: It is a figure of speech that shows the repetition of a phrase or a word at the start of some verses. “I came up” and “I stood” are two examples of anaphora.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /e/ and /o/ “I went down to the river,” and the sound of /o/ in “Sixteen floors above the ground.”
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /t/ in “tried to think” and /th/ in “though the” and again /w/ in “whole world.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /m/ and /h/ in “Though you may hear me holler” and the sound of /s/ in “So since I’m still here livin’.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Langston Hughes used imagery in this poem, such as “Though you may hear me holler”, “I stood there and I hollered” and “Sixteen floors above the ground.”
  6. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poet has used the metaphor of wine for life to state that it is fine.
  7. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as a river, elevator, and bank to show the significance of life.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Life Is Fine

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows very good use of informal and yet poetic diction.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Langston Hughes has used end rhyme in some places, such as bank/sank in the first stanza and cried/died in the second.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is quatrain.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an ABCB rhyme scheme with the same pattern in the rest of the stanzas.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem, with each comprising four verses with a singe-verse in the poem after two stanzas.
  6. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a depressed tone in the beginning, but it turns out optimistic at the end.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote about optimism in life.

Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.