Between the World and Me Favorite 



Jul 1 1938


The United States

Between the World and Me
by Richard Wright

And one morning while in the woods I stumbled
suddenly upon the thing,
Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly
oaks and elms
And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting
themselves between the world and me....

There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly
upon a cushion of ashes.
There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt
finger accusingly at the sky.
There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and
a scorched coil of greasy hemp;
A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat,
and a pair of trousers stiff with black blood.
And upon the trampled grass were buttons, dead matches,
butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a
drained gin-flask, and a whore's lipstick;
Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the
lingering smell of gasoline.
And through the morning air the sun poured yellow
surprise into the eye sockets of the stony skull....

And while I stood my mind was frozen within cold pity
for the life that was gone.
The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by
icy walls of fear--
The sun died in the sky; a night wind muttered in the
grass and fumbled the leaves in the trees; the woods
poured forth the hungry yelping of hounds; the
darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth, cigars and
cigarettes glowed, the whore smeared lipstick red
upon her lips,
And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that
my life be burned....

And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth
into my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my
black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as
they bound me to the sapling.
And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from
me in limp patches.
And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into
my raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony.
Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a
baptism of gasoline.
And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like water, boiling my limbs
Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot
sides of death.
Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in
yellow surprise at the sun....

Richard Nathaniel Wright (09/04/1908 – 11/28/1960) was an American writer. Many of his works uses racial themes and reflects the dark period of African Americans in the history. This poem, Between the World and Me, shows the lynching of black people. The poem describes a scene after a public lynching of a black man. The descriptions of “white bones,” “torn tree limbs,” “a scorched coil of greasy hemp,” and “a pair of trousers stiff with black blood” show that the black man was tortured and burned to death. However, the descriptions of “butt-ends of cigars and cigarettes, peanut shells, a drained gin-flask, and a whore’s lipstick” tell the audience that the spectators watched this cruel lynching with an entertaining attitude. Standing on the perspective of minority group of society, Wright’s poem reveals the cruel truth in the history and criticizes the racial discrimination of American society.

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The poem provides its audience with a collective memory of spectacle lynching. Even for the audience who has never experienced a lynching in-person, the poem creates a vivid scene for them to imagine such activity. Unconsciously, the audience will recognize the imagination created by the poem as their memory. In this way, the poem gives a “prosthetic memory” of spectacle lynching for its audience.