AMERICAN POETRY: LANGSTON HUGHES

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Last updated: December 8, 2019

suffused with the image of death and, simultaneously, the idea of deathlessness. As in Whitman’s philosophy, only the knowledge of death can bring the primal spark of poetry and life.
TNSoR: Arnold Rampersad on illusion, poetry and life

The muddy river is his race, the primal source out of which he is born anew; on that “muddy bosom” of the race as black mother, or grandmother, he rests secure forever.
TNSoR: Arnold Rampersad on the river

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The diction of the poem is simple and unaffected either by dialect or rhetorical excess; its eloquence is like that of the best of the black spirituals.
TNSoR: Arnold Rampersand on the direction of the poem

As the rivers deepen with time, so does the black man’s soul; as their waters ceaselessly flow, so will the black soul endure.
TNSoR: Onquchekwa Jemie on the soul

His signature poem
TNSoR: Joyce A. Joyce on signatures

The identification of Hughes as a folk poet obscures the fact that he is a brilliant poet of ideas, and radical ideas at that.

TNSoR: Adrian Oktenberg on folk

The wisdom imparted by the poem, beyond the memory of the suffering of slavery, includes a more deeply embedded memory of freedom.
TNSoR: Adrian Oktenberg on wisdom

Hughes journey doubles Lincoln’s, and the concern with slavery, in the context of Hughes relationship with his father discloses a crisis of autonomy on a personal level
TNSoR: Rachel Blau Deplessis on Lincoln’s journey

Hughes presents the flip-side of the romantic vaudeville blues image of the wild and celebrated jazz player, good-timing his way through life.
TWB: Steven Tracey on vaudeville

the lack of an actual connection between the performer and the speaker.

They do not strike up a conversation, share a drink, or anything else.

TWB: Steven Tracey on performer and speaker relationship

The blues singer’s apparent self-exhaustion (for his state is a product of his will, his soul) is counterbalanced by the fact that he has played himself into the heart and mind of the speaker in “The Weary Blues.”
TWB: Michael Cooke on self-exhaustion

The poem works out Hughes’s apprehension, his feeling that his ability to understand the emotions that generated this form of artistic expression was not on a par with the expression itself
TWB: Herman Beavers on apprenhenson

He never enters that space whereby the piano player is speaking for him, giving utterance to his loneliness.

Finally, at no point in time does the speaker in the poem insert himself into the lyrics.

TWB: Herman Beavers on the players space in lyrics

That the speaker utters the possibility that the piano player has killed himself illustrates his failure to realize that the blues is performed reflection and not a preface to suicidal behavior.
TWB: Herman Beaver on suicide

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

TNSoR: ive known rivers

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
TNSoR: deep soul

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
TNSoR: Congo

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
TNSoR: Nile

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
TNSoR: Mississippi

Ancient, dusky rivers.

TNSoR: Dusty

But I laugh, / And eat well, /And grow strong.
IT: slowing of pace

Tomorrow/ I’ll be at the table /When company comes. /Nobody’ll dare / Say to me, /”Eat in the kitchen,” /Then.
IT: company comes

Besides, / They’ll see how beautiful I am /And be ashamed—
IT: Beauty

I, too, am America.

IT: I am

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,/ Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,/ I heard a Negro play.
TWB: Harlem rhythm

He did a lazy sway. . . ./ He did a lazy sway. .

. . / To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

TWB: lazy sway

O Blues!/ Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool / He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool./ Sweet Blues!
TWB: framing

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,/ Ain’t got nobody but ma self./

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’/ And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

And can’t be satisfied—
TWB: the song itself

I ain’t happy no mo’/ And I wish that I had died.
TWB: suicidal?

The stars went out and so did the moon.
TWB: Nature ending

The singer stopped playing and went to bed/ He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
TWB: Ending

Oh, silver tree! /Oh, shining rivers of the soul!
J: Ohs

A dancing girl whose eyes are bold /Lifts high a dress of silken gold.
J: Dancing girl and gold

Were Eve’s eyes /In the first garden /Just a bit too bold?
J: Eve’s eyes

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