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Langston Hughes by Spencer McGinnis

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 9 months ago

 

Langston Hughes    (1902-1967)

 

 

About the Poet

 

 

Langston Hughes is considered one of the most essential members of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, Hughes had a lonely childhood and was desperate to move beyond its confines. He didn't hesitate in doing so at a young age Hughes traveled the world going to various locations in Africa and Europe working odd jobs along the way. Hughes eventually returned to the United States, receiving his degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He later lived in Washington DC and Harlem where he died in 1967.  

 

Hughes was highly influenced by Jazz and wrote not only poetry but novels, short stories, and plays. He was the master of providing insight into the daily life experiences of the African American community. Hughes' was not afraid to write what was on his mind, and was never one to shy away from politics. Long accused by the political right of being a communist, somthing he always denied, Hughes was called to testify in front of Wisconsin Senator Josephs McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1953.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let America Be America Again

 

Let America be America again.

 

Let it be the dream it used to be.

 

Let it be the pioneer on the plain

 

Seeking a home where he himself is free.



 

(America never was America to me.)



 

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--

 

Let it be that great strong land of love

 

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme

 

That any man be crushed by one above.



 

(It never was America to me.)



 

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

 

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

 

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

 

Equality is in the air we breathe.



 

(There's never been equality for me,

 

Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")



 

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?

And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?



 

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,

 

I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.

 

I am the red man driven from the land,

 

I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--

 

And finding only the same old stupid plan

 

Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.



 

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,

 

Tangled in that ancient endless chain

 

Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

 

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!

 

Of work the men! Of take the pay!

 

Of owning everything for one's own greed!



 

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.

 

I am the worker sold to the machine.

 

I am the Negro, servant to you all.

 

I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--

 

Hungry yet today despite the dream.

 

Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!

 

I am the man who never got ahead,

 

The poorest worker bartered through the years.



 

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream

 

In the Old World while still a serf of kings,

 

Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,

 

That even yet its mighty daring sings

 

In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned

 

That's made America the land it has become.

 

O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas

 

In search of what I meant to be my home--

 

For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,

 

And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,

 

And torn from Black Africa's strand I came

 

To build a "homeland of the free."



 

The free?



 

Who said the free?  Not me?

 

Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?

 

The millions shot down when we strike?

 

The millions who have nothing for our pay?

 

For all the dreams we've dreamed

 

And all the songs we've sung

 

And all the hopes we've held

 

And all the flags we've hung,

 

The millions who have nothing for our pay--

 

Except the dream that's almost dead today.



 

O, let America be America again--

 

The land that never has been yet--

 

And yet must be--the land where every man is free.

 

The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--

 

Who made America,

 

Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

 

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,

 

Must bring back our mighty dream again.



 

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--

 

The steel of freedom does not stain.

 

From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,

 

We must take back our land again,

 

America!



 

O, yes,

 

I say it plain,

 

America never was America to me,

 

And yet I swear this oath--

 

America will be!



 

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

 

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,

 

We, the people, must redeem

 

The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.

 

The mountains and the endless plain--

 

All, all the stretch of these great green states--

 

And make America again!

 

                                 - Langston Hughes

 

 

 

Let America Be America Again is clearly a poem of social protest. Hughes’ specialty throughout his work was to show the view point as he saw it of the African American Community. Written in 1938, Hughes is reflecting the yearning for equality and disillusion in the American dream that was rightly prevalent in the African American Community.

 

What’s particularly interesting is how Hughes takes up not only the African American perspective but also that of the “poor white”, “red man”, “immigrant”, “farmer”, and “worker”. One of the most prevalent features of America is its diversity, its melting pot nature. Disillusion in America and in life in general does not belong solely to one group. Hughes taps into that feeling of dissatisfaction across the nation. By including those who “left Irelands dark shore, and Poland’s Plain, and England’s grassy lea” as well as those “torn from Africa’s black strand” Hughes make this a poem for all of America to relate to.   

 

 

 

Theme for English B

 

The instructor said,

 

Go home and write

a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you---

Then, it will be true.

 

I wonder if it's that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem.

I am the only colored student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

 

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York too.) Me---who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.

 

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white---

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That's American.

Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that's true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me---

although you're older---and white---

and somewhat more free.

 

This is my page for English B.

 

                          - Langston Hughes

 

 

 

 

In most of his poems Hughes would cronicle the daily experiences of African Americans based not necessarily on his personal experiences but on the commuity as a whole. It is confusing as to who Hughes is placing as the narrator of Theme for English B. Its not likely that Hughes is writing about himself as he was not born in Durham, North Carolina but in Joplin, Missouri. However Hughes did attend Columbia University but left after only a year because of the institutional racism. Surely Hughes is referring to the famous New York City university when he writes "then here to this college on the hill above Harlem".

 

Regardless of who exactly is serving as the narrator of the poem Hughes is reflecting the frustration by many in the African American community of the era. A frustration of not truly being able to express ones self and when doing so in traditional circles such as a university being criticized for it.

 

 

 

 

 Interesting Links

 

Hughes reading his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers,   http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15722 

 

Various readings of Hughes work by actor Ossie Davis http://town.hall.org/Archives/radio/IMS/HarperAudio/052694_harp_ITH.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments (7)

Anonymous said

at 9:22 am on May 10, 2007

I like the poems!

Anonymous said

at 9:26 am on May 10, 2007

Your analysis was very insightful. You did a great job of bringing hidden meaning out of Hughes' poetry. Clearly identifying the 'melting pot' of America was a wise distinctoin to make. It helped me as the reader to further understand Hughes' meaning.
I also liked the detail you put into the author's history, that lasy tid bit about him being taken to court for being a communist was exciting.
Great job!

Anonymous said

at 9:33 am on May 10, 2007

Very good explainations, provided many hidden meanings I would not have picked up on. But a couple of pictures might be a good way to grab the readers attention. Its always easier to visualize whats going on or to relate to something when there are pictures! Overall, great job though!

Anonymous said

at 9:36 am on May 10, 2007

I really enjoyed reading this page it was very detailed and insightful. Your analysis of your poems helped clear up any confusing parts of both poems.

Anonymous said

at 9:36 am on May 10, 2007

very interesting opening story about the author. I especially liked how you related his life as an African-American renessaince writer to his writing of his "America" poem. - Erin Kuntz

Anonymous said

at 9:54 am on May 10, 2007

We enjoyed reading this page a lot. Good job. You guys had good explainations.
From Jake Erickson and Savannah Bastian

Anonymous said

at 9:58 am on May 10, 2007

It is great poetry, political whatnots, and whos-its. Hughes does a great job of bringing the feelings of people into a poem. -IH

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