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The Harlem Renaissance was a well-known social, educational, and artistic work performed in Harlem during the 1920s as a result of the cultural expression of African-Americans who had moved to the northern regions after experiencing difficulties in the South (Wall, 2016). This revolution occurred in the twentieth century and was distinguished by the bulk of black Americans settled in Harlem. Among other things, there were several art practices, one of which was poetry. Poems are pieces of writing completed during this time period. Poets include, among others, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Langston Hughes was one of the poets known in the Harlem Renaissance’s history with his work beginning during his early age. He represents a significant person in the literature of the black Americans. His poem called “Dreams” expresses the dreams and the hopes of the black Americans. Claude McKay is also another poet whose concern was on the plight facing the black Americans. He focuses on the politics that mainly cause oppression of the blacks. The most famous poem is called “If We Must Die” and was written during the period of the social unrest specifically regarding the racial unrest that occurred in 1919 and 1920 (Dean, 2015). These poems focus on the problems that the black Americans were going through under the supremacy of the whites. Most of them had to migrate to the north to find better life compared to the south where the conditions were becoming unbearable. Therefore, the poets played a role in influencing the lives of the victims through their artistic work.
McKay’s poem employs the use of various elements in the expression of the double consciousness. In his use of the similes, he urges the black Americans to hold on and never to give up in their struggles so that they cannot be imprisoned in their minds, but he continues to tell them that their death should be for a cause. This expresses the author’s double mind regarding the possibility of death in the process of struggling. He uses the metaphor about the whites who are regarded as the monsters. The whites are more than the blacks and are also referred to as dogs. The author is aware of the dangers of fighting and urges them to fight. The other poem by Hughes is dominated by repetition and parallelism. In this case, the author has a double conscience concerning the dying of the dreams and the loss of dreams for some time. In his poem, the end of it is not giving hope to the blacks because the author had the belief regarding the African-Americans who will one time be set free to pursue the dreams that they have (Chamber et al., 2017). This makes him show the aspect of double conscience.
The various themes are expressed in the two poems, but the theme of warfare and mortality are common in both cases. In Langston’s poem, warfare is expressed through the expression of the black American’s oppression and poverty with which liberty can only be attained through fighting against them. In his poem, he states that the death of the dreams means the end of life. It is only reasonable for everyone to fight to prolong their life. Therefore, warfare is related to the maintenance of life through keeping the dreams alive. In McKay’s poem, warfare is depicted through fighting a battle that they are supposed to even die in the process of fighting. In his poem, the people must continuously hunt, and if they must die in the process of hunting, they are justified for a cause. He urges them not to die like hogs. The theme of mortality is also depicted by the two poems where in the poem by McKay, it is the theme that is well brought out in the poem. The poet is expressing the people who are facing death already, and he is giving them moral support for them to continue with the fight even at death. The poem expresses the question of how the people will die rather than what happens if they die. The poem gives the people a way of expressing how strong they are through fighting until they die. These expressions explain mortality. In the Hughes’s poem, he explains how the people should not let go their dreams for if they do so, their life is as a good as death. The people are urged to hold fast their dreams. The poem, therefore, gives the people a moral support on what they should do to avoid the death of their dreams. The theme of mortality is expressed as the death of the people’s dreams to keep fighting for their liberation from the poverty that they were subjected to at that time (Chamber et al., 2017). The people were faced with poverty, oppression by the whites, and the prejudice. He addresses the less privileged blacks including the poor farmers giving them hope of a brighter life. Their perseverance equates to the bright life.
Poem on Warfare and Mortality
A Better Tomorrow Comes
The outward appearance is an expression of the heart of gold with joys and cares,
The inside of them hide the sorrows unexplained by the earth,
The many years have healed them and filled kindness,
With every set of the sun giving the best hope on earth.
The race has already been set with many participating young and older athletes,
All battling for the finish line that is marked by the earth,
Their hope is the step that is made in the course of the races,
The ultimate reward is the gold valuable on earth.
Chamber, M. L., Del Guercio, G., Iliadou, A., Jones, J. C., Mallory, D., Martin, R., ... & Varlack, C. (2017). Writing the Harlem Renaissance: Revisiting the Vision. Lexington Books.
Dean, M. (2015). Learning for Liberation: Critical Black Poetry Pedagogy And Transformative Education.
Wall, C. A. (2016). The Harlem Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
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