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It's doubtful that any Engish speaking child in America made it through school without reading:

TO AN ATHLETE DYING YOUNG

       The time you won your town the race
       We chaired you through the market-place;
       Man and boy stood cheering by,
       And home we brought you shoulder-high.

       To-day, the road all runners come,
       Shoulder-high we bring you home,
       And set you at your threshold down,
       Townsman of a stiller town.

       Smart lad, to slip betimes away
       From fields where glory does not stay,
       And early though the laurel grows
       It withers quicker than the rose.

       Eyes the shady night has shut
       Cannot see the record cut,
       And silence sounds no worse than cheers
       After earth has stopped the ears:

       Now you will not swell the rout
       Of lads that wore their honors out,
       Runners whom reknown outran
       And the name died before the man.

       So set, before the echoes fade,
       The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
       And hold to the low lintel up
       The still-defended challenge-cup.

       And round that early-laurelled head
       Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
       And find unwithered on its curls
       The garland briefer than a girl's.

This sample captures the ironic melancholy air of A Shropshire Lad.  The poems generally concern country lads who go off to war, die young  or have their hearts broken. Not exactly feel good stuff, but it is beautiful.

GRADE: B

WEBSITES:
    A.E. (Alfred Edward) Housman
    Housman
    -Alana's Housman Page
    -ETEXT: A Shropshire Lad
    -REVIEW: of A Shropshire Lad (Lavinia Greenlaw , New Statesman)

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Langston Hughes 1902-1967)

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. He spent a year at Columbia University, traveled to Mexico and Europe, moved to Harlem in 1924, finished college at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and then returned to New York, where he became one of the pivotal figures in the Harlem Renaissance.

His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926 and he proceeded to write poetry, novels, short stories and plays that chronicled the Black experience in America for the next forty years.

Hughes acknowledged the particular influence of Carl Sandburg and Paul Laurence Dunbar (growing up he says "almost every Negro home had a book of Dunbar poetry") on his own poetry. The other great influence on his work was Black music--Jazz, Blues and spirituals.

One of his best and best-known poems was written when he was just 18, on a train ride passing over the Mississippi on his way to Mexico & was published in The Crisis--the official organ of the NAACP:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
(click to hear Langston Hughes read this poem)

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
 

The influence of the Blues on his work is nicely captured here:
 

Po' Boy Blues

When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
Since I come up North de
Whole damn world's turned cold.

I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong.
Yes, I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong,
But this world is weary
An' de road is hard an' long.

I fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
Fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
She made me lose ma money
An' almost lose ma mind.

Weary, weary,
Weary early in de morn.
Weary, weary,
Early, early in de morn.
I's so weary
I wish I'd never been born
 

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."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more--
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied--
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
 

Apparently, Hughes was criticized by some because his poetry was thought to be too frivolous, but the political nature of his writing is exemplified by the following selection:

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!

As these selections show, Hughes was a worthy successor to men like Whitman, Sandburg and Dunbar and the, small "d", democratic tradition in American poetry.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

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