Poetry and the World of Langston HughesLangston Hughes enchanted the world as he threw the truth of the pain that the Negro society had endured into most of his works. He attempted to make it clear that society in America was still undeniably racist. For example, Conrad Kent Rivers declared, Oh if muse would let me travel through Harlem with you as the guide, I too, could sing of black America (Rampersad 297).
From his creativity and passion for the subject matter, he has been described as one of the most penetrating and captivating writers in the history of humankind. He also was described as quite possibly the most grossly misjudged poet of major importance in America (Jemie 187). He entrances you into his poetry, and at the same time, reveals the nitty-gritty truth in modern society. His works do not all contain the same attitude, but do have the same concepts of the lives of the common black folk (ALCU 313). The Negro Speaks of Rivers1 and Harlem (A Dream Deferred)2 are two examples of Langston Hughes artistry in poetic expression that can be dissimilar while still expressing the same views on the tribulations of African-Americans.
Harlem (A Dream Deferred) is short, to the point and opens up Langston Hughes world of symbolism. In writing this, Mr. Hughes used symbolism so extensively that when most individuals read it, they do not grasp the true intent of each word.
The images that Hughes conveys in Harlem are sensory, domestic, earthly, like blues images (Jemie 78). It possesses an aggressive attitude and displays the harsh reality of the world in which colored people live. He uses five objects that almost deceive the reader: a raisin, a sore, meat, a sweet, and a load. Each object is seen from the outside and not fully apprehended (Berry 132). Hughes uses personification on the raisin and the sore to force the reader into using an open mind. The raisin symbolizes the African-American in that he/she has fallen from a prosperous vine and has been used and ignored in the dominate white society with the inclination that he/she will rot and disappear.
The raisin refuses its destiny and becomes an irritating sore that will not recede in the white culture. The sore begins to stink(or cause a burden for the white society). This stink coincides to the stench of rotten meat sold to many black folks in ghetto groceries (Jemie 78). The sweet represents the kind of candy that is yearned for and satisfying. Ironically, the sweet turns out to be yet another disappointment. It leaves a thick taste as the good taste of the spoiled sweet goes away.
The deferred dream consists of little things of no great effect individually. Once bound up together, they create an immense tension. The tension builds as time goes by and becomes overwhelming for anyone to handle for an extensive amount of time. This is the load, or the accumulation of little things able to be handled when all combined. The load over time begins to drag the individual down or cause them to sag.
If the little things cannot be contained, then the individual drops the load. Once dropped, the immense tension is able to explode from the harshness of the reality rolled up inside it. The Negro Speaks of Rivers is perhaps Langston Hughes most profound and most often quoted poem (Berry 29). The concept is of an individuals soul that has endured through the ages of time and has been able to see the role changes of African-Americans. It uses repetitious statements throughout, and one of these statements also concludes it: My soul has grown deep like the rivers (McMahon, Day, and Funk 589). It is a sonorous evocation of transcedent essences so ancient as to appear timeless, predating human existence, longer than human memory (Jemie 103). This poem utilizes symbolism at great extent.
For example, the rivers symbolize an extension of Gods body and contribute to His immortality. The rivers chosen for the poem are all famous rivers that are recognized as having mystery and a continuous flow (the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi). The rivers also appear in order of their role in black history. The soul in the poem belongs to an individual that has bonded with the rivers essences, thus giving him/her the immortality of the rivers (or Gods immortality).
The turning point that leads to the prosperous future is the great Mississippi turning from muddy water into gold. This represents President Abraham Lincolns Proclamation. As time goes by, civilizations rise and fall while the rivers deepen. This in turn gives the soul more experience and as the rivers continuously flow, the soul will survive.
Survival is the basis for these two poems despite tragedy and tribulation. They are also both very intriguing in that they draw you into the circumstances of the poem while displaying for you the visual aspects of the environment in which they are set. It is easy to imagine the objects or scenery that Hughes describes and it allows the reader to almost literally “fall” into the poem. They both use symbolism of objects in great detail: The raisin, sore, meat, sweet, and load in Harlem (A dream Deferred),” and the famous rivers in The Negro Speaks of Rivers. In addition, time is represented in both as well. For example, in order for the raisin to rot and disappear, the meat to become rotten, and the sweet to spoil in Harlem (A Dream Deferred), time must be active.
Similarly, the ages of time pass in The Negro Speaks of Rivers as the soul ventures from before human existence to the promising future of African-Americans that is beyond our foresight. Soul searching is a hidden concept of these poems. The Negro Speaks of Rivers is primarily the beginning and unknown end of a soul belonging to an African-American. Likewise, Harlem (A Dream Deferred) is of an African-American soul outlining certain tribulations he/she encounters on its journey to the unknown end.
Nevertheless, these two poems are also quite different. As an illustration, The Negro Speaks of Rivers is uplifting, and has great spiritual meaning. It is a fictitious poem of optimism. Yet, Harlem (A Dream Deferred) embodies a negative, dark, and aggressive theme that carries the nitty-gritty truth to the livelihood of African-Americans. As the soul in The Negro Speaks of Rivers ventures through time, the ending insinuates the survival of African-Americans in this America. This could easily be called a triumph over tribulation.
Conversely, Harlem (A Dream Deferred) is tribulation but with uncertain triumph. The ending is never given, and the reader does not know if the dreamer has persevered over the tribulation. The general outline of The Negro Speaks of Rivers uses rivers repetitiously and contains very little rhyme and flowing rhythm, while Harlem (A Dream Deferred) does not contain a single word used repetitiously.
Furthermore, Harlem (A Dream Deferred) uses rhyme throughout and contains definite repeating stress, which is rhythm.In conclusion, Langston Hughes embraced the broad spectrum of African-American experiences in his poetry (Walker 75). He demonstrated the variances of different approaches and methods, while still concentrating on the his position concerning the lives of common black people. These two poems have great significance together for they contain similarities in purpose, while also containing vast differences in structure, format, and poetic devices used. These differences in structure, format, and poetic devices used compared to his emphasis on the lives of African-Americans, are black and white.
..which from him, really does not matter.Works CitedALCU.
Our Endangered Rights. Ed. Norman Dorson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem. Westport, Connecticut: Lawrence Hill & Company, 1983.
Jemie, Onwuchekwa. Langston Hughes, An Introduction to the Poetry. Ed. John Unterecker. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.McMahon, Day, and Funk. Literature and the Writing Process.
5th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999.Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes: I Dream a World.
Vol. 2. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.Walker, Melissa.
Down from the Mountaintop. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991.