Within his book, The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois begins every chapter with an excerpt of a song. These paratextual inclusions are particularly telling of Du Bois’ own experience and the tone which the respective chapter takes. Chapter 1, entitled “Our Spiritual Strivings” is one such example.
The poem Du Bois includes at the beginning of chapter one is Arthur Symons’ “The Crying of Water.” Chapter one serves as Du Bois’ thesis statement, so to speak. The Souls of Black Folk is Du Bois’ attempt to illuminate “the striving” in the souls of African Americans. The poem he includes at the beginning of the chapter is significant that it is the paratext to Du Bois’ introduction.
Within Symons’ poem, a wailing sea becomes metaphorical of the speaker’s heart. The speaker is “weary” and “wonder[s] and cries like the sea.” This aligns perfectly with Du Bois’ assertions that the African American race was in a time of “storm and stress.” Du Bois writes that the constant repression of his race has culminated as “inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings.” Like the narrator in Symons’ poem, Du Bois hears the wailing of his race and he cannot help but channel it.
Symons’ poem ends with the speaker concluding that he will spend “all life long crying without avail.” Sadly, this is the conclusion Du Bois flirts with. His introduction offers little hope for the African American condition and it certainly provides no concrete suggestions on how to navigate the divided identity of the African American. Instead, as Du Bois states, the work is a detailed documentation of the “spiritual striving” of a race the author believes has a burden “almost beyond the measure of their strength.” Yet, though Du Bois may not pose a solution and Symons’ poem would indicate that there may not be one, the continuous struggle is what Du Bois firmly believes in. He believes that although the burden may be great, it is not one which cannot be borne. Rather, the belief that one can continue to earnestly struggle for freedom is a sign of hope in and of itself.