The Liar (poem)

The Liar (poem) Study Guide

"The Liar" was published by Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) in December 1963. It is the story of a man who deeply wants to understand himself and goes through a metamorphosis on his journey of self-discovery. The voice of the speaker is closely connected to Baraka's own, and he even alludes to himself in the final stanza: "When they say, 'It is Roi / who is dead.' I wonder / who will they mean?" (lines 26-8).

Much of Baraka's work from this time concerns issues of self, especially as they are connected to the body and outside perceptions. "An Agony. As Now," published just one year after this poem, is an intensely disturbing work in which the speaker of the poem undergoes a split between his soul and his body. It is a potent social metaphor for a time when bodies of color were being politicised and treated as "other" by mainstream America. "The Liar" is equally blunt and raw, beginning with an alarming transformation: "What I thought was love / in me, / I find a thousand instances / as fear," (lines 1-3). This poem is an excellent window into what Baraka's own psyche might have been enduring during the civil rights struggle in the United States, a struggle that in few years time will lead him to leave his old life in Greenwich Village and move to Harlem in an attempt at a political self-transformation.

Baraka was going through a period of transformation during the mid-1960s. In the context of Baraka's book S O S, "The Liar" is a critique of the social, cultural, and political identity that Baraka perceived of many African-Americans during the 1960s. This book highlights the struggles he faced trying to create a balance between his culture, history, and activism through his poetry.