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Read More Poetry: The Langston Hughes Edition

By Leah Dobrinska. Feb 16, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: American History, Poetry

We're a little over one month into the new year. How are your new year's resolutions shaping up? One of our promises for 2017 was (and is!) to read more poetry. You should make it a habit to do so, too. Today, we’ll help the poetry cause by presenting poems from legendary poet and author, Langston Hughes.

Langston_Hughes_1936_PD.jpgLangston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902. His poetry was a cornerstone of the Harlem Renaissance. And he is well remembered for the way in which he spoke directly to African Americans, never shying away from the realities of life. Hughes used his poetry to peddle the truth, and he did so with a mix of music—notably jazz—as well as humor and language. Below are a few of Langston Hughes’ notable poetic efforts. Read on and you’ll be amazed at how they resonate still today.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Night Funeral in Harlem

Night funeral    
In Harlem:     

Where did they get    
Them two fine cars? 

Insurance man, he did not pay—
His insurance lapsed the other day—
Yet they got a satin box
for his head to lay.     

Night funeral    
In Harlem:     

Who was it sent    
That wreath of flowers? 

Them flowers came
from that poor boy’s friends—
They’ll want flowers, too,
When they meet their ends.     

Night funeral      
in Harlem:     

Who preached that    
Black boy to his grave? 

Old preacher man
Preached that boy away—
Charged Five Dollars
His girl friend had to pay.     

Night funeral    
In Harlem: 

When it was all over
And the lid shut on his head
and the organ had done played
and the last prayers been said
and six pallbearers
Carried him out for dead
And off down Lenox Avenue
That long black hearse done sped,    

The street light      
At his corner    
Shined just like a tear—

That boy that they was mournin’
Was so dear, so dear
To them folks that brought the flowers,
To that girl who paid the preacher man—
It was all their tears that made    

That poor boy’s   
Funeral grand.    

Night funeral   
In Harlem.

The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,    
      I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light    
      He did a lazy sway . . .    
      He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.    
      O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.    
      Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.    
      O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—    
      “Ain’t got nobody in all this world,      
      Ain’t got nobody but ma self.      
      I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’      
      And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

 

Dream

Hold fast to dreams
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

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!

Browse All Poetry

Poems courtesy of poets.org.

 

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Leah Dobrinska
Writer, editor, and lover of a good sentence, a happy ending, and the smell of books, both old and new. Enjoys reading children's lit to her daughters, home-improvement magazines with her husband, and Shakespeare by herself.

 

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