Andrew DeMaio Giffen Maupin FWS: Reading “You” and “I” September 8, 2011 Pieces of literature consist of many basic elements and their interrelations, not merely one discrete block of literary meaning. Works of poetry are no exception to this rule, and thus poems almost always consist of smaller interacting pieces; the smallest of these pieces are usually words. Therefore, in order to comprehend the meaning, intent, and significance of a poem adequately, one must analyze individual words and their emergent properties. Due to its brevity, Langston Hughes’ “Suicide’s Note” clearly exemplifies the power of single words and their impact upon the meaning of the work as a whole. In particular, the word “kiss” exhibits these properties extremely well through its nuanced denotation, its tight relationships to the other words in the poem, and its peculiar linguistic properties (3). The Oxford English Dictionary offers many subtly distinct definitions of what one may perceive as an exceedingly simple and familiar word: “kiss.” Perhaps the most familiar definition of “kiss” is merely a “touch or pressure with the lips intended to show affection or reverence.” Many other definitions, though, build on these premises of affection and physical contact, thus bestowing a very dynamic connotation and “feel” to the word. For instance, the OED also defines a kiss as a physically light touch or impact (e.g., the term used in Billiards to describe a gentle collision on the side of the ball.) This builds upon the gentle dimension of a kiss, and also adds a sense of limited contact. The word “kiss” can also describe a small piece of confectionery or candy. Just like the immediately preceding definition, this meaning translates the complex nature of a kiss into strictly physical terms: most perceive kisses as sweet, small, and valuable; and most of humanity has associated these attributes with candy. In this way, then, the link between kisses and sweetness holds strongly (a fact which Hershey’s brilliantly exploited.) Among these familiar definitions of “kiss” are more esoteric ones; for example, a “kiss” can mean a drop of sealing-wax that accidentally falls near the seal. Again, this definition reflects the minuteness and delicacy typically associated with “kiss” as well as an unofficial tone (since, in contrast, the seal itself represents officiality and seriousness.) Perhaps most applicable to Langston Hughes’ “Suicide’s Note”, though, is the definition attributed to “kiss of death.” A kiss of death occurs when an apparently kind action results in disastrous consequences. Truly, an occurrence so paradoxical merits such an oxymoronic tag; “kiss”, which has heretofore been associated with gentleness, lightheartedness, and affection, profoundly contrasts the unforgiving, grave, and uncaring grasp of death. This contrast, however, serves as a perfect juxtaposition through which further elucidation as to the meaning of “kiss” may be effected—it is typically the opposite of “death”’s. Clearly a complex word, “kiss” serves intricate and varied functions in “Suicide’s Note” and does so partly by interacting with every line of the poem. The speaker begins the poem with “The calm” (1). While “The” insinuates a sort of familiarity and intimacy, “calm” denotes gentleness. “Kiss” is tightly bound to both of these meanings. On the next line, “river” attains the human-like quality of a “Cool face” (2). Interestingly, kisses in the conventional sense are usually applied to the face. Therefore, the cool face would most likely be the recipient of such a kiss. The full description of “face”, however, also includes “The calm”. The alliterative and slightly redundant pair, “calm,/ Cool”, fits well with the relaxed and unofficial dimension of “kiss”. In addition, the third line involves yet another facet of “kiss”: in this line, the “face” of the river “Asked” for a “kiss” (3). Far from insignificant, this request implies a kind of dependence and reinforced sense of intimacy between the speaker and the river; this obviously relates strongly with “kiss”, as well. Most shockingly, though, “kiss” applies rather gravely to the title of the poem. In the hitherto addressed lines, “kiss” has fitted into its more positive guises, but the title, “Suicide’s Note”, transforms this optimism to despair. Indeed, the “kiss of death” perfectly reflects this ironic twist. The apparently benign request for a “kiss” now turns into a shocking demand for the forfeiture of life. Thus, “kiss” associates strongly with all parts of the poem, even if it does so in a paradoxical manner. In addition to the poetic interactions between “kiss” and the rest of the poem, “kiss” also possesses several intriguing linguistic properties which relate and differ from the rest of the poem. For example, all words within the poem are monosyllabic with the sole exception of “river”; this insinuates a sort of simplicity or primitive state of mind, and “kiss” definitely follows this mold. Truly, “kiss” possesses the most primitive feel of the nouns in the poem: all other nouns in the text bear a Greek or Latin root while “kiss” is Germanic in origin. Although a word’s origin does not necessarily imply its corresponding mood or tone, words with a Germanic etymology tend to inspire more visceral emotion than those from Greek and Latin (e.g., “hate” as opposed to “ire.”) In addition to its oxymoronic role in the poem, “kiss” serves as a brilliant piece of punctuation for the work since it remains consistent with the simple, rushed mood of the poem while in fact surpassing the emotional impulse of all the other words.
While “Suicide’s Note” probably evokes initial confusion in most of its readers by using typically innocuous words to convey a tragic message, many of these words (and especially “kiss”) have nuanced meanings that fit perfectly into the poem’s depressing nature. As shown, “kiss” is obviously linked to such varied meanings so that its complexity does not even require a puzzling context. However, “kiss”’s context does increase the complexity of its meaning: the speaker skillfully refers to every part of the poem in this one concluding word. In addition, this word’s position in the poem highlights several of its linguistic properties: “kiss” fits well with the poem’s other succinctly simple words, and indeed it distinguishes itself by evoking a more instinctual feeling through its Germanic sound. Thus “kiss”, even in the most cursory glance, acts as much more than a simple string of four letters. However complex this single word may seem, though, the poem consists of many others; therefore, total comprehension (if such an act exists) of Hughes’ brief work most likely lies beyond the reach of a single reader’s abilities. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 22.214.171.124 (talk) 05:13, 9 September 2011 (UTC)
Posted from your good old Arch distro
Just checking to see if this whole wifi, internet deal works like I think it does. It seems really cool and it'd be a shame if it didn't. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 03:43, 15 August 2012 (UTC)
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