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During one period of American history, many African Americans endured unspeakable cruelty. They did not have the same rights as whites, such as free expression and the right to vote. Langston Hughes was no exception to these examples of human brutality. Since he had a black mother and a white father, he was neither white nor black. He, like the other blacks in the city, felt the pains of poverty. Because of his difficult upbringing, Hughes preferred poetry as a means through which he could reach out to those who shared his destiny. Many regard him as a pioneer of the African American literature as well as vocal in his contribution to the Harlem Renaissance. Mr. Hughes remains to be one of the influential poets in the world because his poems are more inclined towards addressing the struggles, dreams, and racial prejudices of the African American people.
One cannot talk about the Harlem Renaissance and fail to mention the contribution of Hughes. He was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the African American movement during the 1920s. The movement was vocal in celebrating the life of blacks as well as culture at the time of heightened racial injustices. Hughes’s creativity seen in the poems and essays he wrote were influenced by his life and stay in New York City. He strived to promote equality, humor, spirituality as well as condemn racial prejudice while at the same time celebrating the culture of the African Americans in the country (Hughes). Most of his works are influential and they helped shape the American literature as well the country’s politics.
“Dreams” is Hughes’ most loved poem all across the world. Among the many literary works by the poet, this is the only poem considered less vocal both politically and racially. The poem gives hope to the hopeless people in the society affected by injustices in the community. Hughes uses the word “when” in the second line of the second stanza instead of “if” to show that he has gone through a life without dreams and he is aware how difficult it is to make it. He says that an individual without dreams is similar to a field that is barren and cannot produce anymore. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is another poem from Hughes which uses the poetic technique of anaphora which is repletion of initial words or phrases at the beginning of each line (Hughes). The poem is great as it enables one to connect his soul and heritage of the African American individuals in the society. The poem describes a journey they made to America and how they have come to achieve civilization. The journey as shown by the rivers is a sign of the challenges they have faced in slavery for them to finally gain freedom in the country.
Hughes employs various poetic devices in communicating the intended message to the readers. For instance, the poem “Let America be America Again” uses the technique known as anaphora to unify the different elements making the poem solid and concrete. The repetition of the word “I am” at the beginning of every line in the verses of the poem shows the plea of an African American need for the country to change. The poet also employed other formal techniques such as rhetoric, rhyme and anaphora to make the poems unique from other writers. The integration of Blues in some of the poems also makes them compelling to a reader and memorable to all the people as in the poem “The Weary Blues.” (Patterson).
Both Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel do not agree with my opinion that Langston Hughes remains to be the most influential poet in African Literature. According to the two critics, they argue that the poems by Hughes used too simple and unlearned language in approach. The duo state that poems by Hughes describing the Harlem Renaissance lacks creativity when compared to other poems regarding the same subject. We are in a free country where everyone is entitled to his or her opinion concerning a given subject. However, I strongly disagree with such an assertion from the two professionals (Jemie and Ihechukwu). All the poems by Hughes that I have read so far are so inspiring and with high levels of creativity. The piece of work by the poet exhibits an advanced level of writing that reflect in-depth thinking and consolidation of both ideas and experiences. The poems are a piece of art as they retell the story of African American and the struggles they had to endure under the racist whites.
Rampersad and David Roessel were not the only critics of the work of Langston Hughes as his peers also disapproved his approach to poetry. According to literary peers of the 1960s, Hughes did not fully embrace the Civil Rights Movement that he was purporting to support and champion. They argue that the technique of writing where Hughes opted for bluesy, gospel-influenced and gentle tenacity poems was not helping their objectives in calling for equality (Jemie and Ihechukwu). In the same way as I disagreed with first criticism of Hughes, I also do not think this is true. The poems “Let America be America Again” is a very civil piece of writing. It is calling for an end to the racial discrimination of individuals in America in homes, on the streets and in work places. Besides, the poem “Dreams” is an inspiring work of literature that calls upon people not to give up their dreams because of the everyday struggles and challenges that they have to endure. It cautions against surrendering to the racial and social injustices stating that once a person gives up then he or she is no more. Langston does not encourage racial prejudices but instead calls for an end to the act of judging people on the basis of their skin color.
Langston Hughes will forever be in minds for the immense contribution he made to African American literature through the numerous poems he wrote in his time. He used poetry as a platform to voice out the experiences, emotions and struggles of the African Americans during his period. He touched on various controversial topics in society such as prostitution, teenage pregnancy and most especially racism. His choice of language and style of writing is what makes his piece of art different from the other poets of his time. He integrated vernacular, blues and gospel music in his poems. The various poems he wrote such as “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Fine Clothes to the Jew” describe the daily struggles of the African American in the society. Unlike other poets, Hughes maintained an honest, direct and in some cases an ironic intelligence in his work which made him to write exemplary pieces of work.
Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage, 2011.
Jemie, Onwuchekwa, and Ihechukwu Madubuike. Toward the decolonization of African literature: African fiction and poetry and their critics. Vol. 1. Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980.
Patterson, Anita Haya. "Jazz, realism, and the modernist lyric: The poetry of Langston Hughes." MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 61.4 (2000): 651-682.
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