Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes


#1

Today is langston Hughes’s birthday, and the past couple years I’ve turned to this poem of his often for obvious reasons. He wrote it in 1935 and apparently didn’t think it was very good. I think its a great response to MAGA and a reminder how little changes.

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!

#2

Terrific poem.
Thanks

“What is old
is new again”
History often repeats
itself
(unless and until the great Mass
of humanity rises Up)
and tries to create a
New History for
our children to learn about.


#3

The poem nails it; America’s greatness has never been in its past (which has been more or less an ongoing cavalcade of horrors for those who weren’t lucky enough to be born into some form of privilege) but in its promise and as-yet-unrealized ideals.

That’s what conservatives didn’t understand or willfully ignored about Michelle Obama’s speech describing the Executive residence as “a house built by slaves.” The story of our country is the story of a flawed nation that has spent the last 240 years striving to make itself better.


#4

Harlem

BY LANGSTON HUGHES

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

  Or fester like a sore—

  And then run?

  Does it stink like rotten meat?

  Or crust and sugar over—

  like a syrupy sweet?

  Maybe it just sags

  like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


#5

I’ve set up my website to rotate in different content each day, e.g. related to a famous birthday. Here’s what I set up for Feb. 1st:

I play it cool
I dig all jive
That’s the reason
I stay alive
My motto
As I live and learn
Is dig and be dug in return