Feb 11 2020

Richard Wright – I am nobody

Published by at 9:34 am under Poetry

I am nobody
by Richard Wright

I am nobody:
A red sinking autumn sun
Took my name away

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

/ Image by Philip Male /

The great African-American writer, Richard Wright, is best known for his novels Native Son and Black Boy, but less well-known is that late in his life, while living in self-exile in Paris, he wrote thousands of haiku.

This is one I keep re-reading since I first discovered it as I was editing Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment.

This haiku resonates on so many levels.

I am nobody

We start with negation. The author is not there. We ourselves as readers are not there. I imagine an outline where a person might have stood, a shadow, a silhouette. Awareness is there, but no self.

A red sinking autumn sun

Then we have the massive glowing presence of the red sinking sun. We go from negation to immensity. The vastness of that vision has a gravitational pull to it. It has grabbed us and carried us away. It…

Took my name away

And that’s what it is, this state of being nobody. The witness — the author, the reader — is still there on some essential level, but the “name” has disappeared. That self-referential loop within the mind has stopped its ceaseless spinning and we have become a thing undefined. In that quiet, selfless state, we stand in open mystery with great beauty open before us.


I write all this, obviously not during the autumn, but looking out the window at a blanket of snow glistening in bright morning sunlight. Of course, anything can be that autumn sun for us, a mountain, a symphony, a thought. It’s not so much a matter of putting ourselves in the presence of the right thing, so much as being present ourselves, open, and ready to be swept away into silence.


…I have been reminded by a reader that it is important to remember that Richard Wright, as a black man who lived his later years in France in rejection of institutionalized American racism may also be making a comment about the experience of African Americans in the US down to literally having their names taken from them. I really appreciate that reminder about perspective. A good poem can be read in multiple ways at the same time.

Recommended Books: Richard Wright

Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition Haiku: The Last Poetry of Richard Wright

Richard Wright, Richard Wright poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Richard Wright

US (1908 – 1960) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Richard Wright

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Richard Wright – I am nobody”

  1. barbaraon 11 Feb 2020 at 10:10 am

    Loved the haiku and your commentary. We have lovely sunsets in Kansas but I usually miss them. Thanks for reminding me to take time for beauty.

  2. Bob C. (Corbin)on 11 Feb 2020 at 8:25 pm

    Richard Wright joins Emily Dickinson and that great Sufi poet whose name I can’t remember because, I guess, he finally achieved true “nobodyness ” I had my chance a little over 20 years ago as I sat, like Machado, beside my wife at Mass. It came time to kneel and I dutifully followed my wife’s example. The Church was dark, lit by a single candle. I noticed that my knees appeared to be sinking into the bench. I was frightened. I screamed inside my head — don’t let me disappear. I did not know this was a blessing. Oh for one more chance to disappear, to become nobody. I guess it will happen someday. one way or another.

  3. Radha Srinivasanon 12 Feb 2020 at 6:02 am

    Ivan you are a great person and you are doing a great job thankyou

  4. Anna M.on 12 Feb 2020 at 10:07 am

    We experience simultaneously
    Both nobody and somebody
    Form and formless
    being nothing and being everything

    As a seamless WHOLE

    And this is truly awakening state

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