Robert E. Howard and the Issue of Racism: The African and African-American Poems — Part 3

Interracial Relationships

Anti-miscegenation laws were strictly enforced to keep the races segregated so it is especially interesting to view Howard’s quite different viecrovwpoints here.

“Day Breaks Over Simla” (undated) is a poem about an interracial love affair between what sounds like a young woman from India and a member of the British Consul stationed there. The beautiful images of their love transcend Time.

Near a million dawns have burst
Scarlet over Jakko’s hill
Since our burning kisses first
Mingled in the twilight still,
In the magic, sapphire dust when our passions drank their fill.

I remember how the moon
Floated over shadowed dells
And the mellow mystic tune
Of the tinkling temple bells—
Ere Siddertha’s [sic] people turned to the braying sea-conch shells.

Lips to scarlet lips we pressed—
Ah, your eyes were starlit meres
As your tresses I caressed
Calmed your modest virgin fears—
Love upon an Indian night, love to last a thousand years.

Fades the rosy dawn as slow
Morning flames across the plain;
With a sigh I turn and go,
Humming some old-time refrain,
To the consul-house as day over Simla breaks again.

Interracial marriages between European men and East Indian women were very common during the British colonial times. Most of these women were Muslims belonging to the aristocracy or families with royal ancestry. According to the historian William Dalrymple, about one in three European men had Indian wives in colonial India.

Above, Howard speaks of the romance between a white man and an East Indian woman with great beauty but what if it were the opposite situation. For example a black man and a white woman? Surprisingly, the movie, The Rains Came which was released in 1939 is about an East Indian doctor (played by Tyrone Power) and a married white woman (Myrna Loy) who fall deeply in love. The subject of race is not raised. How could there be any outrage expressed when the role is played by Tyrone Power who is white with dark makeup. When Myrna Loy’s character is “punished,” it is for her adulterous transgressions.

But Howard is not so kind. The subject matter in the following two poems “To a Certain Cultured Woman” and “To a Roman Woman” is also about interracial relationships. This time between a white woman and a black man. In “Day Breaks Over Simla” the interracial relations between a white man and an East Indian girl are spoken of in terms of love and beauty but in these next two poems, the tone is one of contempt, not only for the woman but also for the man who is her lover.

“To a Certain Cultured Woman” is one of several poems that were included in an undated letter to Howard’s friend, Clyde Smith (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 3, p. 476.)

Open the window; the jungle calls;
(Searching winds in the grasses rank)
Your masters sleep in the silent halls.
(Breathe the wind, grown haunting and dank.)
Restless woman with magic eyes,
Jungle love is your heritage;
Deep in your soul it slumbers and lies,
Waking after an ageless age.
Men of your hue have drawn apart,
Climbing to heights you never can climb,
The jungle lies in your deep red heart,
Claiming you after a timeless time.
Men of your hue have turned away
From club and arrow and trail and cave—
Deep in your brain you long today
For the fires where the dancers leap and rave.
Open the window; there waits without
One who will sate your primal lust;
One who will grip you and strip and flout,
Humble your pride to the pulsing dust;
Make you a woman primal, debased,
Tame you as you wish to be tamed,
Waking the days when girls were chased
Hard through the reeking woods and shamed.
What do the men of your own race give?
Honor and wealth and tenderness—
What would you have to fully live?
Shame and pain and the whip’s caress!
Wild and ecstatic, burning pain,
Fingers that yield not to your plea—
Loins against which you strive in vain,
Blows and a brutal mastery.
Men may rise to the shining gates,
Out of the ancient bestial sea—
You are still, with your loves and hates,
Primal woman—and ever shall be.
Open the window; your masters sleep;
Wary and cautious; wake them not.
You feel the hot blood raven and leap,
Coursing veins that are passion hot.
Open the window; he waits without;
(Eyes agleam in the gliding gloom)
The jungle raises one gloating shout
As a black man glides in your moonlit room.

REH attributes this attraction to a return to the primal time when the jungle was in her heart and which is now reclaiming her. Most interesting to many women would be the lines:

What do the men of your own race give?
Honor and wealth and tenderness—

In the same verse, Howard describes the results of an interracial union:

What would you have to fully live?
Shame and pain and the whip’s caress

Shame and pain and beatings are not confined to just interracial relationships. Brutality against women does not have a color line. And REH was aware of the treatment of women. In a letter to his friend Clyde Smith (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 1, p. 250; ca. Nov 1928,) he said the following:

…I am nauseated at the injustice of life in regard to women. Woman-beating, for instance, goes on a lot more than most people realize especially in regard to young girls. Getting down to basic stuff, when a man and woman are alone, her only real protection against him is his better nature or weaker nature, whichever you prefer. It must be Hell to have to beg for everything you get, or to beg out of abuse or punishment.

Howard’s description of the Black man’s sexuality and the white woman seeking sexual satisfaction with him was common not only in Texas, but throughout most of the USA. In Racism a Short History, Fredrickson notes:

In the American South, the passage of segregation laws and restrictions on black voting rights reduced African-Americans to lower-caste status, despite the constitutional amendments that had made them equal citizens. Extreme racist propaganda, which represented black males as ravening beasts lusting after white women, served to rationalize the practice of lynching.

In his The Black Image in the White Mind (Wesleyan Press, 1971) Fredrickson further discusses this concept:

The only way to meet criticisms of the unspeakably revolting practice of lynching was to contend that many Negroes were literally wild beasts, with uncontrollable sexual passions and criminal natures stamped by heredity. The incredible cruelty and barbarity of lynching thus led to the most extreme defamations of the Negro character that had yet been offered and helped provide the tone and substance for the race-hate literature of the period.

Again, pro-slavery advocates found reasons for enslaving Blacks within the Bible:

…Like so many other elements in the racist rhetoric and imagery of 1900, it had its origins in the proslavery imagination, which had conceived of the black man as having a dual nature—he was docile and amiable when enslaved and ferocious and murderous when free. The notion that blacks could be seized by uncontrollable fits of sexual passion was derived in part from the traditional picture of Africa as a land of licentiousness. As early as the 1840s, Josiah Priest, one of the antebellum proponents of the Biblical argument for slavery attempted to prove from Scripture that the descendants of Ham had overdeveloped sexual organs and were the original Sodomites of the Old Testament, guilty in ancient times of all forms of lewdness. “The baleful fire of unchaste amour rages through the negro’s blood, more fiercely than in the blood of any other people,” wrote Priest, “inflaming their imaginations with corresponding images and ideas…” Later the racist propaganda directed against emancipation and Reconstruction laid heavy stress on the contention that freed blacks had an uncontrollable desire to violate white women.

This focus changes around 1900. In The Negro as a Beast, author, Charles Carroll described the Negro as literally “an ape rather than a human being.” According to Carroll:

The apelike Negro was the actual “tempter of Eve and miscegenation was the greatest of all sins—the true reason for God’s destruction of slavery. As for the mulatto, the offspring of an unnatural relationship, he did not have “the right to live”; for it was the mulattoes, Carroll contended, who were the rapists and criminals of the present time.

Carroll further described the mulatto as having “enough white blood to replace native humility and cowardice with Caucasian audacity.”

Even the medical journals of the day agreed with this concept and gave a different and, perhaps, a more earthy reason for the Black male’s sexuality. This time it is stated in “medical terms.” In an article printed in Medicine the author, Dr. William Lee Howard, wrote:

The physiological basis of the problem was “the large size of the negro’s penis” and the fact that he lacked the “sensitiveness of the terminal fibers which exists in the Caucasian.” It followed, therefore, that “the African’s birthright” was “sexual madness and excess.”

Fredrickson sums up these purveyors of a brute image of the Negro:

What white extremists may have confronted in the image of the black brute was not so much a Negro as a projection of unacknowledged guilt feelings derived from their own brutality towards blacks. In order to deserve the kind of treatment he was receiving in the United States in 1900, the black man presumably had to be as vicious as the racists claimed; otherwise many whites would have had to accept an intolerable burden of guilt for perpetrating and tolerating the most horrendous cruelties and injustices. But in seeing blacks as bad enough to deserve what they got, racists undoubtedly conjured up a monster that was capable of frightening its creators and driving them to new frenzies of hatred. By thus feeding on itself, such a process could easily pass beyond the realm of rational calculation and defensive propaganda. In the end, even the most oppressed and rigidly subordinated black sharecropper could serve as a symbol of terror for the white-supremacist imagination.

Geology Professor Nathaniel Southgate Shaler argued against the assertion that negroes were sexually dangerous animals. In his opinion, “violence to women is not proved to be a crime peculiarly common among blacks.” He was inclined to believe that “there is less danger to be apprehended from them than from an equal body of whites of like social grade.”

But all forms against any kind of social contact with African-Americans was brutally enforced as Fredrickson further notes in Racism a Short History:

Individual blacks had been hanged or burned to death by the lynch mobs to serve as examples to ensure that the mass of southern African-Americans would scrupulously respect the color line.

Strong anti-miscegenation laws prohibited the inter-mixing of the races based on the “one drop theory” which held that anyone with even one drop of African blood was considered black. As mentioned previously, these laws, enacted in the South, were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama and eventually spread to all of the states except Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In Texas, the anti-miscegenation law banned blacks from marrying whites. Violations of the law could mean sentences of life imprisonment. As shown in Part 1, “The Jim Crow Laws and the White Supremacist Threat,” White Supremacists often took the law into their own hands for those who crossed the color line.

Taking all this into consideration, while REH speaks disparagingly about the white woman-black man relationship in “To a Certain Cultured Woman” there is no talk of punishing or killing the black man – a possibility had this been written by anyone who was a White Supremacist or a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The poem “To a Roman Woman” was included in a letter to Clyde Smith in early to mid-1929 (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 1, p. 352) and it has the same theme. As in “To A Cultured Woman,” the white Roman woman’s desire for someone of another race is attributed to a return to primitive jungle lusts of ages gone by.

Gleaming ivory, black basalt;
Red lips parted and brooding eyes—
Woman of mystery, whose fault
That a black hand spreads your heavy thighs?
Only the carven marble cats
Frozen along the winding frieze,
Only the silent night-winged bats
Know who has lain between your knees.
What were the heights to which you rose?
What were the deeps to which you sank?
What slaves shuddered beneath your blows?
Deep of your charms what masters drank?
Sated deep of your tribe and blood,
Desire again rose up like a wave,
Coursing your veins in a burning flood
At the smooth round limbs of the great black slave.
One more mystery to attain,
One more sensual depth to explore;
Nights of fierce and exalted pain
Racking the soul to its burning core.
White form lapped by the great black arms,
Pleas that are meant to be in vain,
Fingers ravishing secret charms,
Shrill sharp cries of ecstatic pain.
Silver stars in the blue cobalt.
Aura’d lust of a leering god;
Ivory mingling with black basalt,
White legs spread to a stiff black rod.

Again, REH shows a revulsion and a negative attitude towards such an interracial relationship and the sexuality of the African-American male. Of equal interest here are the earthy details Howard gives regarding the white woman/black man sexual relationship. This is apparently in also in keeping with modern tastes. According to the Wikipedia website on miscegenation, “In recent years, interracial pornographic films, which most commonly refer to black male/white female films, have increased in popularity, becoming one of the fastest-growing and biggest-selling genres. Interracial films that show black men and white women together have a majority audience of white male viewers.”

But not all anger directed at Blacks had a sexual basis. In The Arrogance of Race (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1971), Professor George M. Fredrickson discusses the concept of Negroes as scapegoats for all the white problems of the day regarding economy, low prices, loss of land, and tight credit. He also notes the importance of Joel Williamson’s The Crucible of Race and Williamson’s reasons for the need for Negro scapegoats.

The root of the matter, in his view, was the white South’s commitment to an exaggerated “Victorianism”—especially Victorian ideas about sexuality and sex roles. Williamson’s interpretation can be viewed as a more sophisticated version of Cash’s theory of a white “rape complex.” Putting white women on a pedestal meant that they must be adored and served but could not be desired sexually without strong guilt feelings. The frustrated white males’ recourse to black women became much more difficult after emancipation (I believe however, that Williamson exaggerates somewhat when he says the “white men’s access to black women virtually ended.”) Given the prevailing myth of black hypersexuality, it was inevitable that repressed sexual envy would encourage conscious racial hostility and lay the foundation for fears that “oversexed” blacks would assault white women and usurp the sexual prerogatives that white males could claim but not fully enjoy.

And Williamson’s isn’t the only psychological evaluation.

Carl Gustav Jung has even argued that the Negro became for European whites a symbol of the unconscious itself—of what he calls “the shadow”—the whole suppressed or rejected side of the human psyche. The rudiments of such a complex may have manifested themselves in Elizabethan England. A tendency to project upon blacks the kind of libidinous sexuality that whites tried to suppress in themselves would certainly have been helped along by a hazy and inaccurate knowledge of African sexual practices and by a smirking consideration of what was implied by the fact that many Africans went around completely or virtually naked. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago pursues his vicious campaign against the Moor by skillfully playing on associations of blackness with bestial sexuality as well as on a sense of the unnaturalness of interracial union. He tells Desdemona’s father, for example that “an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe” and that his daughter is “covered with a Barbary horse.”

Ladies of the Night

REH wrote several poems regarding women of color. Some, like “A Negro Girl,” analyzed in Part 2, are tributes to them and to their heritage. Others are about prostitutes or sexually free women who have black or brown skin. The mood this time is sexual.

This theme of women of color is also in “Strange Passion” (undated).

Ah, I know black queens whose passions blaze
Alike for girls and slender boys.

I’ve known a girl with lust-curved hips,
A black Swahili, to snatch in glee
Her trade-cloth dress above her hips
And for a flogging order me.
And as her bare sleek rump I fanned,
She writhed before me on the earth
And shrieked, yet I did understand
Her shrieks were ecstasies and mirth,
For I know women and the length
They dance to passion’s trumpet skirl.

And I’ve felt the speed and strength
Of a slim-limbed Somali girl,
Naked, beneath the ju-ju trees:
That time my passion hottest burned,
I lay across her slim, brown knees,
My firm, young buttocks bare upturned.
Each time she shook in passion’s hap,
With greater strength my corded staff she held,
Stretching me naked o’er her lap,
Beating me till I fairly yelled. . .

And I have known a Congo queen
Of beauty tinged with tiger-claw,
Who no joy from fierce sex could glean
Unless at least a thousand saw.
At that I halted—not for long!
She rose up, nude, with flashing eyes,
Unbreeched me there before the throng,
And jerked me down between her thighs. . .

And—I have known a queen who shared,
A Niger dame who bestowed the right:
Men’s privy members she compared
For a companion for each night. . .

If Howard’s “knowledge” of these women was first hand, the analysis would be simpler. That he frequented black prostitutes locally is possible. In her book One Who Walks Alone, (Donald M. Grant Publisher, 1986) Novalyne Price-Ellis writes of a conversation with REH on this subject.

“Every man has to uphold his race and protect his women and children,” Bob said earnestly. “He has to build the best damn world he can. You mix and mingle the races, and what do you get? you get a mongrel race—a race that’s not white and not black.”

It seemed to me he was leaving out something important. “Very well, then,” I said flatly. “If a man’s going to fight to keep his race pure, don’t let him go down to the flat and leave a half-white, half-black child down there.”

Bob jerked the steering wheel so abruptly that we almost ran off the road. “Well, damn it,” he groaned. “There something there that you don’t understand.”

He looked at me, ran his hand over his face, and glared. “Well, sometimes a man—Well, damn it. Sometimes a man has to—“

He stopped, glared at me, sighed, and settled back in his seat. “I’ll tell you the facts of life, even if you never speak to me again. When a man wants—Oh well, damn it to hell—”

He pounded the steering wheel, lurched forwards and backwards. “Girl, listen, Don’t you ever talk this way to anybody but me. No other man’s going to understand it. I don’t understand it myself.” He paused and shook his head. “It’s a funny thing that I can’t make you understand that men are men.”

The quote from One Who Walks Alone is not conclusive proof that Howard himself frequented black prostitutes but it does infer that it was a common practice. However, even keeping the conversation with Novalyne in mind, “Strange Passion” and the following poems sound like erotic sexual fantasies. Of possible relevance in these poems is Joel Williamson’s statement in The Crucible of Race: “Putting white women on a pedestal meant that they must be adored and served but could not be desired sexually without strong guilt feelings.”

(“And there were lethal women…”) which appeared in a letter to Clyde Smith ca. February 1929, describes the variety of women seen through the bars of a harem. Here there is beauty with no hint of racism.

And there were lethal women, flaming ice and fire,
Slim ebon girls from Niger and the night,
Dusky breasted Berbers a-quiver with desire,
Circassians whose eyes held mystic light.
Bedawi girls whose tresses were black as flowing stars,
Egyptian damsels sinuous and slim—
Oh, nights the palm-leaves whispered against the harem bars!
The shadows fall; the moon is rising dim.

(“My brother he was a auctioneer”) was sent to his friend, Tevis Clyde Smith in a letter dated November-December 1928. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 1, p. 274) It is a bawdy and burlesque poem, loosely styled and irregular in measure which makes it very difficult to analyze.

My brother he was an auctioneer
             With a skull like a kotted hammer,
He was quick as a cat when he went for beer,
             But his wife was a showgirl, damn her.

Some are crooked from dusk to dawn,
             But none was ever so crooked,
For I first shot craps on the ghetto lawn
             Where the immigrant kids are rook’ed.

Some are kept at home of nights,
             Like something screwed in a socket,
But my uncle took me to see the fights
             And I picked his goddam pocket.

When I grew and guzzled my brother’s corn,
             He would not bide so near me,
So he kicked me out one lovely morn,
            With a boot in the pants to cheer me.

So I went my way and I sought for gawks
             With skulls like solid palmettos,
And I shot my craps on the crowded walks
             In the shade of the East Side ghettoes.

Till I lost my money and found my girl,
             One of the Harlem wenches,
With a pair of buttocks that she could twirl
             Till they passed out under the benches.

She danced in a flock of cabarets,
             Was never a girl could beat her,
But some low bastard got a raise
             And came one night to meet her.

But I laid for him upon that night,
             As he leaped across the hedgel,
And I timed his chin with a roundhouse right
             And knocked him cold as a wedgel.

The punch that finished him broke my hand,
             Mere words can not convey it,
To mend it cost me to beat the band
             And it broke my heart to pay it.

I took me a black, unbroken wench
             And led her into the park there,
But she knocked me out with a monkey wrench
             And left me naked and stark there.

I lay in the lush of the ticklish grass,
             It’s a wonder I did not freezel,
Till I woke and found what had come to pass
             And my curses froze the treesel.

So I sat me down beneath a tree
             And gathered all my craftel,
And the thought of college came to me
             And that is a goodly graftel.

I wear a green, he-mannish cap
             And a pair of sails for breeches,
And I yodel and sing and act the sap
             With a hundred sons of bitches.

Go lay your hands in a harlot’s lap
             And seek for the stuff she peddles,
You will jazz her and get the clap,
             But I will jazz co-eddles.

Online dictionaries define “wench” as a young girl; a servant or a prostitute. The word “jazz” as used here is a euphemism for sex. Howard does mention black women and prostitutes. But he does not show them the same contempt and anger that he does for the white prostitutes in poems such as “A Song from an Ebony Heart,” which was sent to his friend Clyde Smith around November 1928. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 1, p. 244.) The first verse sets the tone:

The wine in my cup is bitter dregs,
             The moon is hard and cold,
Like a woman that spreads her greedy legs
             For a smear of slimy gold.

And the final verse continues this bitterness:

Their arms are white but they grip like bars.
             The candle gutters low.
I can nail the moon back over the stars
             But my soul died long ago.

In “Surrender (1),“ (The Junto v. II, no. 3, 1929), Howard speaks of the brown skinned woman with more tolerance:

Her eyes are fierce and her skin is brown
And her wild blood hotly races,
But it’s little I care if she does not frown
At any man’s embraces.

Again, the preceding three Howard poems about women of color seem to center more on erotic fantasy than any racist attitude.

Miscellaneous

This category consists of two poems that mention Blacks. However, determining whether they reflect racism is difficult. “Am-ra the Ta-an” is an unfinished poem and “Swamp Murder” does not provide enough information.

In “Am-ra the Ta-an” (undated), Am-ra, is a Mighty Hunter who flees the priests of his village and goes to the Land of the Tiger where he lives in peace with most of the animals. He kills only for food or self-defense. The poem also mentions Gaur, Am-ra’s friend.

A youth in the land of the Ta-an,
A slim, young warrior, Gaur,
Had followed Am-ra in the chase,
And fought by his side in war.
He yearned for his friend Am-ra
And he hated the high priest’s face,
Till at last with the spear he smote him,
And fled from the land of his birth race.
Am-ra’s foot-prints he followed,
And he wandered far away,
Till he came to the land of the tiger,
In the gateway of the day.

Into the land of the tiger,
There came an alien race,
Stocky and swart and savage,
Black of body and face.
Into the country of Am-ra,
Wandered the savage band,
No bows they bore but each carried
A stone-tipped spear in his hand.
They paused in Am-ra’s country,
And camped at his clear spring fair,
And they slew the deer and the wild horse,
But fled from the tiger and bear.
Back from a hunt came Am-ra,
With the pelt of a grizzly bear,
He went to the spring of clear water
And he found the black men there.
More like apes than men were they,
They knew not the use of the bow,
They tore their meat and ate it raw
For fire they did not know.
angry waxed bold Am-ra,
Furious grew he then,
For he would not share his country
With a band of black ape-men.

Am-ra’s remark “More like apes than men were they” is offensive and degrading. There is a question of whether his contempt and anger are directed towards their primitiveness because they could not use a bow and ate their meat raw rather than their skin color. As far as racism is concerned, did Am-ra want the black men gone? Yes. Did he kill them or try to enslave them because they were different? This is difficult to determine since the poem, which is a fragment, was unfinished by Howard. It states that he will not share his country with a band of black ape-men. How Am-ra planned to rid his world of these men was never written by Howard. However, there are a couple of indications that might give the reader a clue to possible endings.

First of all, the poem also states that the men who Am-ra felt invaded his land were also armed.

There came an alien race,
Stocky and swart and savage,
Black of body and face.
Into the country of Am-ra,
Wandered the savage band,
No bows they bore but each carried
A stone-tipped spear in his hand.

A spear in the right hands, can be deadly. While we have no way of knowing the skill of these men, the possibilities for killing an enemy with a spear are strong. For example, according Rev. John George Wood’s The Uncivilized Races of Men in All the Countries of the World, Vol. 1. (J. B. Burr Publishing Company, 1876.)

The Kaffir, when going on a warlike or hunting expedition, or even when travelling to any distance, takes with him a bundle or “sheaf,” of assegais, at least five in number and sometimes eight or ten. When he assails an enemy, he rushes forward, springing from side to side in order to disconcert the aim of his adversary, and hurling spear after spear with such rapidity that two or three are in the air at once…

In addition, the Robert E. Howard volume, Kull Exile of Atlantis, contains several “Am-ra of the Ta-an” fragments. One of these, “The Tale of Am-Ra” speaks of Am-ra’s friend, Gaur, at a time “when the people of the caves gather about the fire of old Gaur to listen to his legends and folk-lore and his tales of his youth.”

…Skilled in war also, was Gaur. The walls of his cave were hung with weapons, skillfully wrought, trophies of the wars of Gaurs [sic] youth when he went forth to fight the black men and the tribes of the sea and the hairy ape-men and the Sons of the Eagle. Skilled in many things was Gaur.

The quoted lines of that fragment suggest there were wars between Am-ra’s people and “the black men and the tribes of the sea and the hairy ape-men and the Sons of the Eagle.” It’s also possible that Am-ra and Gaur, who followed his friend, made war on any warriors who invaded what they considered their country.

These two explanations are merely speculation. To the best of my knowledge there are no notes in Howard’s writing regarding the tribes of the sea and the Sons of the Eagle and whether these wars were between traditional enemies or based on skin color.

The “Swamp Murder” (undated) is a tale about death in the “swampy stream.” In the poem REH states the deed is done by a black hand that “grips a gleaming blade.” However, from the information provided it can’t be determined whether there is racism in the poem or not. All the reader is told is the setting, the murder and the aftermath.

Through the mists and damps
The stars arise
Like the red eyes
Of the voodoo lamps.

Alligator and frog
Haunt the swampy stream
And their eyes gleam.
And now the fog

Spreads its ivory scroll
And the stars are lost
Like crystals tossed
In the sky’s blue bowl.

And deep in the glade
A shadow slips,
A black hand grips
A gleaming blade.

Now the red eyes
Of the ’gator gloats
And a body floats
And the river sighs.

While the poem mentions a black hand that grips the knife, the theme is more about the eerie swamp itself and ends with the anthropomorphism, “And the river sighs.”

Read Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 4 / Part 5