Langston Hughes

April 20, 2010

 

                In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, Langston Hughes discusses the geographical history of his race, and uses rivers to describe the places of origination.  He says, “my soul has grown deep like the rivers” because when you live in a place for a long time, it becomes a part of you, and a part of your heritage to your children.  This is why people kill and die for a small piece of land, because they cannot bear to think of being torn from it.  This is one of the reasons that uprooting an entire race and transplanting them roughly into another country can destroy them even if you don’t beat and enslave them afterwards.  In this short poem, Hughes roughly outlines the history of African Americans (looked at as a large group, not an individual as the poem speaks), and their movement around the earth.  One thing, then, that they have wherever they are planted, is the river to lull them to sleep, bathe in, to know.

                In “Theme for English B”, Hughes explores something well known to every college student in a very personal way.  I’m sure his instructor was shocked by the assignment he received,

                But it will be a part of you, instructor.

                You are white-

                yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

                That’s American.

                Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

                Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

I would imagine he was shocked, I hope he gave a good grade.  He probably didn’t, he might have wanted to throw Hughes out of his class for his brazenness.  Imagine the dean’s office, embarrassed instructor, waving the poem around with a red sweating face.  It makes me smile.  This poem, like many of Hughes’ poems, describes what is going on in his head in beautiful detail.  His outline of the way he takes to class even show some of his determination to succeed despite the fact that he is “the only colored student” in his class.  It explains the way he feels the need to demonstrate his connectedness to Harlem, “Harlem, I hear you”.  I imagine he is conflicted between the way he feels and what others expect of him, as a young black man.  “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races”

                His writing style is different from William Carlos Williams in a few respects.  First, in my opinion, Hughes is the more gifted writer.  I think he explains more clearly what he is thinking, while Williams’ writing is left to the reader to determine what he might have meant.  Williams uses a lot of symbolism, and his poems are shorter over all.  Hughes is very self-descriptive, and narrative.  Williams is more about metaphors and imagery.   They are both obviously considered great writers, (or they wouldn’t be in our anthologies), but I would have to choose Hughes as my favorite.

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