5 Poems by Langston Hughes

Langston HughesTo conclude my little series of posts about American poets, I selected Langston Hughes, one of the outstanding writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes borrowed from blues and jazz music to create strong rhythms and deeply felt emotion. His work celebrated African American culture, often calling his inspirations, peers, and followers by name. The writing is often meant to be understood by laypeople, but Hughes did sometimes experiment with unusual forms. His insights into the Jim Crow era retain their sting today, a necessary reminder of what America used to be like and a living indictment of the fact that the battle isn’t over. Here are five poems that exemplify running themes throughout the volume The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

Drama for Winter Night (Fifth Avenue) (1925)

  • You can’t sleep here,
  • My good man,
  • You can’t sleep here.
  • This is the house of God.
  • The usher opens the church door and he goes out.
  • You can’t sleep in this car, old top,
  • Not here.
  • If Jones found you
  • He’d give you to the cops.
  • Get-the-hell out now,
  • This ain’t home.
  • You can’t stay here.
  • The chauffeur opens the door and he gets out.
  • Lord! You can’t let a man lie
  • In the streets like this.
  • Find an officer quick.
  • Send for an ambulance.
  • Maybe he is sick but
  • He can’t die on this corner,
  • Not here!
  • He can’t die here.
  • Death opens a door.
  • Oh, God,
  • Lemme git by St. Peter.
  • Lemme sit down on the steps of your throne.
  • Lemme rest somewhere.
  • What did yuh say, God?
  • What did yuh say?
  • You can’t sleep here….
  • Bums can’t stay….
  • The man’s raving.
  • Get him to the hospital quick.
  • He’s attracting a crowd.
  • He can’t die on this corner.
  • No, no, not here.

Star Seeker (1926)

  • I have been a seeker
  • Seeking a flaming star,
  • And the flame white star
  • Has burned my hands
  • Even from afar.
  • Walking in a dream-dead world
  • Circled by iron bars,
  • I sought a singing star’s
  • Wild beauty.
  • Now behold my scars.

Note on Commercial Theatre (1940)

  • You’ve taken my blues and gone —
  • You sing ’em on Broadway
  • And you sing ’em in Hollywood Bowl,
  • And you mixed ’em up with symphonies
  • And you fixed ’em
  • So they don’t sound like me.
  • Yep, you done taken my blues and gone.
  • You also took my spirituals and gone.
  • You put me in Macbeth and Carmen Jones
  • And all kinds of Swing Mikados
  • And in everything but what’s about me —
  • But someday somebody’ll
  • Stand up and talk about me,
  • And write about me —
  • Black and beautiful —
  • And sing about me,
  • And put on plays about me!
  • I reckon it’ll be
  • Me myself!
  • Yes, it’ll be me.

Merry-Go-Round (1942)

  • 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?

Poet to Bigot (1953)

  • I have done so little
  • For you,
  • And you have done so little
  • For me,
  • That we have good reason
  • Never to agree.
  • I, however,
  • Have such meagre
  • Power,
  • Clutching at a
  • Moment,
  • While you control
  • An hour.
  • But your hour is
  • A stone.
  • My moment is
  • A flower.

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