Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) wrote 14 books of poetry, three books of poetry in translation, innumerable plays that have been published in some 11 works, letters, short stories, novels – an incredibly productive and creative career. All of his work, collectively and individually, represent a profound chronicle of African-American life from the 1920s to the 1960s.
Hughes claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg as his primary influences. But there was also jazz, and the streets, and the language and experience of people, especially the African-American people whom he knew and loved so well.
For National Poetry Month, three poems by Langston Hughes.
I, Too, Sing America
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.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen, ”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
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.
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.
Who preached that
Black boy to his grave?
Old preacher man
Preached that boy away–
Charged Five Dollars
His girl friend had to pay.
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
My 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.
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.
- Poets and Poems: Benjamin Myers at “The Family Book of Martyrs” - January 31, 2023
- Poets and Poems: Laura Mullen and “After I Was Dead” - January 24, 2023
- “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” – An Old Poem, a New Artwork - January 17, 2023