In honor of National Black Poetry Day, I am sharing a couple of poems from Langston Hughes.
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?
Let America Be America Again, by Langston Hughes
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.”
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,
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!
Stop hating yourself before
You accept what you hated you for.
You’re tired of fighting, I’m sure,
but step away from the anchor
you want to drop in these
poisonous, restless seas.
It’s the waves you must fight,
while you rest in the Light.
Speak peace to the wind
And sail on from your sin.
Because it’s not who you are,
though it rises from within.
You’ve been given a new heart.
Stop hating your own skin,
as you war against your sin.
You are new. Live new.
Free from condemnation,
Free to deny what is no longer you.
Accept this liberation
and live new.
Tell me why I should pry
these hands apart and try
to make and maintain
a hidden peaceful terrain
that no one else sees,
if it only blesses me.
My child, let Me explain.
Your home is my home.
The places you roam
are under my reign.
I plant flowers undiscovered
in fields under covers of snow.
Where only I know, they grow.
I make stars and galaxies
far from the sight of technology.
And I swing planets on a string
beyond your wildest dreams.
I form wonders on the floor
of oceans yet unexplored.
I set the path for birds to fly
where no heart can know to sigh
or lament its fall from the sky.
My thoughts and my creative care
What do you believe about Me?
I do not neglect the lonely.
It blesses me to bless you with peace,
And someday you will share
what has been hidden with care.
A poem on the year 2014.
Homeless; not hopeless.
It’s under control
Unemployed; not destroyed.
You cannot take my soul
A penny for my thoughts
A penny never sought.
Endless words. “You ought”
Think back on all I learned
The lessons that I spurned
No. Not ready to be taught
Let me think of something else
Something other than myself
Or him. Definitely not him.
The good memories are the worst
They carry away my hope in a hearse
So sweet. He swept me off my feet
And my brain took a vacation.
But I remained to romanticize the pain.
Thank God it is over
and I left to gather clover
With children who keep getting older.
Babies of my sisters and brother.
And without knowing anything else,
they taught me the joy of innocence
in the little moments they would forget
But I would hold forever.
It was a beautiful morning drive,
And I saw the sunrise with cynical eyes.
The seven wonders of the world could not amaze,
These eyes fixed with a judgmental gaze.
In this fog, I could see nothing of God.
Not the colors in the clouds in their complexity,
Nor the souls that inhabited bodies next to me.
And next to me there sat infinite mysteries,
the glory of God in finite earthly bodies.
Brilliant yellow light touched the tops of trees.
Pictures of beauty that could not unclog me.
This critical and angry temper,
cannot be touched by words spoken,
though true. I’ll only get better
if my heart is turned toward You.
It doesn’t please me to be pretty,
to appease this shallow committee
you’ve formed to evaluate my form
and the color of my face, to scorn
the soul beneath this tent I’ve worn.
This is not why I was born.
Do not think you can hide.
I see the vacancy in your eyes.
I adjure you to look up to the sky,
See the emptiness inside and cry.
Let Heaven transform the way
You see the souls on whom you prey.
But is it ever beautiful to inherit
This light I could just stare at
And this glorious purpose to reflect
The glorious King who is perfect,
To defy this empty pretty
and live from a deeper sea
Regardless of what you do not see or do.
If you can’t see Him,
You can forget me too.
Let me reflect His beauty,
and defy this empty pretty, please.
I’ll meet the road again with
the things that I don’t give away
to a city once acquainted with
lamenting the lovely dismay.
I have not tied myself down
with a stake in the ground
Though my love is bound
to people on the ground
And I feel the ache and stretch
of those I cannot wrap my arms around.
But my heart is tied up to the sky
and my spirit whispers, “Fly.”
Why is it so hard to only trust?
To let go of the list of must
The pride of life and fleshly lust
All these things that rot and rust
I believe it’s true,
No desire obtained can free you
Me. It ensnares me and scares me
Suffocates those ideals I carry.
I implore you. Each desire you succumb to has won you.
I only give in because I don’t trust You
That You’re worthy and You make me worthy
You win me. Jesus, You win me.
Remind me daily,
Of the grace that makes me
From now until forevermore,
May I always love You more
Than all the sand on the shore
Than all the ones I hold dear
I want to love You here
In all the places I lay my head
Upon every ground I step.
I want to speak Your praise,
Louder than any song on my lips,
Thought in my mind or spoken phrase.
Let the depths of my soul be set ablaze
With the fire of Your holy name,
And nothing else ever steal my gaze.
If I could call You on the phone,
I think I would just listen.
If I understood how well You hear,
and know even every unspoken prayer
I would not say a word.
But I would wait for You to speak.
And I would listen.
God help me to listen.