Langston Hughes is considered by many readers to be the most significant black poet of the twentieth century. He is described as ³...the beloved author of poems steeped in the richness of African American culture, poems that exude Hughes¹s affection for black Americans across all divisions of region, class, and gender.² (Rampersad 3) His writing was both depressing and uplifting at times. His poetry, spanning five decades from 1926 to 1967, reflected the changing black experience in America, from the Harlem Renaissance to the turbulent sixties. At the beginning of his career, he was surrounded by the Harlem Renaissance. New York City in the 1920¹s was a place of immense growth and richness in African-American culture and art. For Hughes, this was the perfect opportunity to establish his poems. His early work reflects the happy times of the era. However, as time progressed he became increasingly bitter and upset over race relations. Except for a few examples, all his poems from this later period spoke about social injustice in America. The somber tone of his writing often reflected his mood. Race relations was the shadow of his career, following him from his first poem to his last. The tone and subject matter of Hughes¹s poetry can be linked to certain points in history, and his life. The youth of Hughes is brought out by his poem ³Harlem Night Club², a piece which describes living in the moment. Often children do not consider the consequences of their actions; they act on instinct and desire. Hughes might have been 27 when he wrote this poem, but the feisty, upbeat tempo of a school boy is present in his style. ³Harlem Night Club² is unique in that it describes the integration of blacks and whites in an optimistic tone. The vigor and spirit of his youth is reflected in the energy of the writing, ³Jazz-band, jazz-band, / Play, plAY, PLAY! / Tomorrow....who knows? / Dance today!² The repetition of the words, and the increasing emphasis on the word ³play² bring out the excitement to the reader. More evidence of Hughes¹s youth comes from the very focus of the poem: the interracial couples. The entire poem can be summed up as ³...a single-glance tableau of interracial flirtation against a background of heady jazz.² (Emanuel 120) This festive relationship between the two sexes can rarely be seen in any of Hughes¹s later poems. At th...
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... civil rights movement had peaked, Hughes is left feeling worthless. The bitterness he faced during his lifetime built up to a dull apathy that appears in this piece. Despite the fact that Hughes is ³...among the most eloquent American poets to have sung about the wounds caused by injustice² (Rampersad 3), he thought his poems made no impact on society. On the contrary, Hughes¹s poems had a tremendous influence on African-American society. Although scholars and critics throughout his career dismissed his poetry as too ³simple and unlearned,² his primary audience, the black masses, and even Hughes himself viewed his work as ³folk poetry² which was beneath criticism. (Rampersad 4-5) His poems, when studied as a collection over the span of his life, clearly show how the tone and emphasis in the writing reflect the mood of Hughes himself as he grew old. The universal theme of racism and race relations defined all the important work of Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes Danny Belinkie December 23, 1999 Period 2
Emanuel, James. Langston Hughes. Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1967. Arnold Rampersad. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics, New York, 1994.
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