The American writer Richard Wright first published "Between the World and Me" in The Partisan Review in 1935. While walking through the woods, the poem's speaker stumbles across the remains of a Black person who was brutally murdered by a racist mob. The gruesome details of the scene "thrust" themselves "between" the speaker and the rest of the world, creating a barrier of intense, icy fear. As the poem goes on, the speaker becomes the victim himself, narrating the murder from a book of the same name.perspective that viscerally illustrates the dehumanizing horror of racist violence. The contemporary writer Ta-Nehisi Coates borrowed the poem's title for his bestselling nonfiction
And one morning ...
... world and me...
There was a ...
... of greasy hemp;
A vacant shoe, ...
... smell of gasoline.
And through the ...
... walls of fear—
The sun died ...
... into my flesh.
The gin-flask passed ...
... life be burned...
And then they ...
... in my agony.
Then my blood ...
... at the sun...
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Hear the Poem — Listen to a reading of the poem.
Original Publication — Take a look at a digital version of the Partisan Review issue in which the poem was first published ("Between the World and Me" begins on page 18).
The Poet's Life — Learn more about Richard Wright in this overview of his life and work.
Lynching in the United States — A short video that unpacks the racist history of lynching in the United States. (Please beware that this video contains disturbing photographs of actual lynchings.)
"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates — Check out the LitCharts guide to Ta-Nehisi Coates's book of the same, which borrows its title and epigraph from Richard Wright's poem.
1And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,
2Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms.
3And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me...
4There was a design of white bones slumbering forgottenly upon a cushion of ashes.
5There was a charred stump of a sapling pointing a blunt finger accusingly at the sky.
6There were torn tree limbs, tiny veins of burnt leaves, and a scorched coil of greasy hemp;
7A vacant shoe, an empty tie, a ripped shirt, a lonely hat, and a pair of trousers stiff with black blood.
8And 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;
9Scattered traces of tar, restless arrays of feathers, and the lingering smell of gasoline.
10And through the morning air the sun poured yellow surprise into the eye sockets of the stony skull...
11And while I stood my mind was frozen with a cold pity for the life that was gone.
12The ground gripped my feet and my heart was circled by icy walls of fear—
13The 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:
14The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves into my bones.
15The gray ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into my flesh.
16The gin-flask passed from mouth to mouth, cigars and cigarettes glowed, the whore smeared the lipstick red upon her lips,
17And a thousand faces swirled around me, clamoring that my life be burned...
18And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth into my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
19My 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.
20And my skin clung to the bubbling hot tar, falling from me in limp patches.
21And the down and quills of the white feathers sank into my raw flesh, and I moaned in my agony.
22Then my blood was cooled mercifully, cooled by a baptism of gasoline.
23And in a blaze of red I leaped to the sky as pain rose like water, boiling my limbs.
24Panting, begging I clutched childlike, clutched to the hot sides of death.
25Now I am dry bones and my face a stony skull staring in yellow surprise at the sun...