• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

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    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

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Poetry Friday: A thousand whirling dreams of sun

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote movingly, painfully, and honestly about blacks in America, in poetry, plays, essays, and stories. He was inspired by poets Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, and Carl Sandburg (“my guiding star”, Hughes called him).

In a 1947 article, “My Adventures as a Social Poet”, Langston Hughes wrote,

Poets who write mostly about love, roses and moonlight, sunsets and snow, must lead a very quiet life. Seldom, I imagine, does their poetry get them into difficulties. Beauty and lyricism are really related to another world, to ivory towers, to our head in the clouds, feet floating off the earth.

Unfortunately, having been born poor — and colored — in Missouri, I was stuck in the mud from the beginning. Try as I might to float off into the clouds, poverty and Jim Crow would grab me by the heels, and right back on earth I would land. A third floor furnished room is the nearest thing I have ever had to an ivory tower.

Some of my earliest poems were social poems in that they were about people’s problem’s — whole groups of people’s problems — rather than my own personal difficulties. Sometimes, though, certain aspects of my personal problems happened to be also common to many other people. And certainly, racially speaking, my own problems of adjustment to American life were the same as those of millions of other segregated Negroes. The moon belongs to everybody, but not this American earth of ours. That is perhaps why poems about the moon perturb no one, but poems about color and poverty do perturb many citizens. Social forces pull backwards or forwards, right or left, and social poems get caught in the pulling and hauling. …

After detailing some of his experiences and including some poetry, Hughes concluded,

So goes the life of a social poet. I am sure none of these things would ever have happened to me had I limited the subject mater of my poems to roses and moonlight. But, unfortunately, I was born poor — and colored — and almost all the prettiest roses I have see have been in rich white people’s yards — not in mine. That is why I cannot write exclusively about roses and moonlight — for sometimes in the moonlight my brothers see a fiery cross and a circle of Klansmen’s hoods. Sometimes in the moonlight a dark body swings from a lynchng tree — but for his funeral there are no roses.

From Arnold Rampersad‘s “Unwearied Blues” essay for PEN on the centennial of Hughes’ birth,

Langston Hughes loved books. During his lonely childhood, while he was living with his aged grandmother, books comforted him. “Then it was,” he confessed, “that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books, where, if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language—not in monosyllables as we did in Kansas.”

For Poetry Friday today, I offer a selection of the poems of Langston Hughes.


My People (1923)

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

*  *  *

Merry-Go-Round (1942)

Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can’t sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There’s a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we’re put in the back —
But there ain’t no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where’s the horse
For a kid that’s black?

* * *

Mother to Son (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

* * *

One-Way Ticket (1949)

I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, Scranton,
Any place that is
North and East —
And not Dixie.

I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield,
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake,
Any place that is
North and West —
But not South.

I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.

I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket —
Gone up North,
Gone out West,

* * *

Dream Boogie (1951)

Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a —

You think
It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a —

What did I say?

I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!


* * *

As I Grew Older (1926)

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun —
My dream.

And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose slowly, slowly,
The light of my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky —
The wall.
I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.

My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

*  *  *

For more on Langston Hughes:

The Voice of Langston Hughes; CD from Smithsonian Folkways, recorded by Moses Asch, featuring works from

Langston Hughes: Voice of the Poet; Hughes reads his poetry (audiobook, with accompanying book)

The Essential Langston Hughes; more of Hughes reading his poetry, from Caedmon

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing (Volume 11); and at Amazon.com

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies (Volume 12); and at Amazon.com

The Langston Hughes Reader

Langston Hughes by Milton Meltzer, a children’s biography by Hughes’ friend and writing partner, published the year after his death

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker, illustrated by Catherine Deeter; children’s picture book biography

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes; his poetry collection for young people, illustrated by Brian Pinckney

A Pictorial History of African Americans (1995) by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer; the most recently revised edition of what was originally published as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956), and then A Pictorial History of Black Americans (1973)

The Glory of Negro History (1955), Langston Hughes’ spoken word history on Folkway Records

The Story of Jazz (1954), Langston Hughes’ spoken word musical history on Folkway Records

*  *  *

There are more poems and poets at the week’s Poetry Friday round-up, which MsMac is hosting as an early Thanksgiving potluck over at Check It Out.

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4 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this! You do THE BEST POETRY POSTS.

  2. m.o.m., you write the best comments : ). And thanks for sticking through that awfully long post all the way to the bitter end…

  3. I stuck through it too. Which means I’ve read more than my usual quota of poetry this week. But I like it. All of it. but then I’m one of those pinko commie politically correct types ;-)

    Thanks. I’m debating how many CDs and books I could justify…

  4. […] doing well with my resolution to read Becky’s Poetry Friday posts. This week she hit me with a whole lot of Langston Hughes. Great stuff. I love that political stuff for exactly the reason he writes it (explained in her […]

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