POEMS by Langston Hughes


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

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
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.

I've known rivers:
Ancient , dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like rivers.



Because I am the white man's son--his own
Bearing his bastard birth-mark on my face,
I will dispute his title to my throne,
Forever fight him for my rightful place
There is a searing hate within my soul,
A hate that only kin can feel for kin,
A hate that makes me vigorous and whole,
And spurs me on increasingly to win.
Because I am my cruel father's child,
My love of justice stirs me up to hate,
A warring Ishmaelite, unreconciled,
When falls the hour I shall not hesitate
Into my father's heart to plunge the knife
To gain the utmost freedom that is life.



I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's hearbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you, till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.


I, too sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes.
But I laugh,
And eat well
And grow strong.

I'll sit at the table
When company comes
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen"

Besides, they'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed,--

I, too, am America.



I am a Negro:
      Black as the night is black,
      Black like the depths of my Africa.

I've been a slave:
     Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.
     I brushed the boots of Washington.

I've been a worker:
     Under my hands the pyramids arose.
     I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.

I've been a singer:
     All the way from Africa to Georgia
     I carried my sorrow songs.
     I made ragtime.

I've been a victim:
     The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
     They lynch me still in Mississippi.

I am a Negro:
     Black as the night is black,
     Black like the depths of my Africa.


The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you--
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eight Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
The Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records--Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
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 part of me.
Not do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--
although you're older--and white--
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.




I had some cards printed
The other day.
They cost me more
Than I wanted to pay.

I told the man
I wasn't no mint,
But I hankered to see
My name in print.

He said, Your name looks good
Madam'd that way.

Shall I use Old English
Or a Roman letter?
I said, Use American.
American's better.

There's nothing foreign
To my pedigree:
Alberta K. Johnson--
American that's me.



Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor--
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you find it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.


Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can't sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There's a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we're put in the back--
But there ain't no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where's the horse
For a kid that's black?



What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?



It's such a
Being always


Have you dug the spill
Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims
On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.
Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream,
Chocolate darling
Out of a dream.
Walnut tinted
Or cocoa brown,
Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored
To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness
In Harlem's no lack.
Glow of the quince
To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze
To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial,
Virginia Dare wine--
All those sweet colors
Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa,
Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar,
A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy,
Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon
To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold,
Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum
Harlem girls vary--
So if you want to know beauty's
Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious,
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.



Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil,
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, worried, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.



Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In that Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
and Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."
The free?
A dream--
Still beckoning to me!

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--
The land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--
The poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back out might dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
An ever-living seed,
Its dream
Lies deep in the heart of me.

We, the people, must redeem
Our land, the mines, the plants, the rivers,
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


In the
In the Quarter
In the Quarter of the Negroes
Where the doors are doors of paper
Dust of dingy atoms
Blows a scratchy sound.
Amorphous jack-o'-lanterns caper
and the wind won't wait for midnight
For fun to blow doors down.

By the river and the railroad
With fluid far-off going
Boundaries bind unbinding
A whirl of whistles blowing.
No trains or steamboats going--
Yet Leontyne's unpacking.

In the Quarter of the Negroes
Where the doorknob lets in Lieder
More than German every bore,
Her yesterday past grandpa--
Not of her own doing--
In a pot of collard greens
Is gently stewing.
In the pot behind the
paper doors on the old coal stove
What's cooking? What's smelling, Leontyne?
Lieder, lovely Lieder
And a leaf of collard green,
Lovely Lieder Leontyne.

But they asked me right at Christmas
if my blackness, would it rub off?
I said, ask your mama.

Dreams and nightmares . . .
Nightmares . . . Dreams! Oh!
Dreaming that the Negroes
Of the South have taken over--
Voted all the Dixiecrats
Right out of power--
Martin Luther King is Governor of Georgia,
Dr. Rufus Clement is his Chief Advisor,
Zelma Watson George the High Grand Worthy.
In white pillared mansions
Sitting on their wide verandas,
Wealthy Negroes have white servants,
White sharecroppers work the black plantations,
And colored children have white mammies:
     Mammy Faubus
     Mammy Eastland
     Mammy Talmadge
     Mammy Wallace.

Dear, dear darling old white mammies--
Sometimes even buried with our family!
     Dear old
     Mammy Faubus!
Culture, they say, is a two-way street:
Hand me my mint julep, mammy.
     Hurry up!
     Make haste!

(September 15, 1963)

Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all--
     But left instead
     Their blood upon the wall
     With spattered flesh
     And bloodied Sunday dresses
     Scorched by dynamite that
     China made aeons ago
     Did not know what China made
     Before China was ever Red at all
     Would ever redden with their blood
     This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall.
Four tiny little girls
Who left their blood upon that wall,
In little graves today await:
     The dynamite that might ignite
     The ancient fuse of Dragon Kings
     Whose tomorrow sings a hymn
     The missionaries never taught
     In Christian Sunday School
     To implement the Golden Rule.
Four little girls
Might be awakened someday soon
By songs upon the breeze
     As yet unfelt among
     Magnolia trees.


Way Down South in Dixie
   (Break the heart of me)
They hung my black young lover
   To a cross roads tree.

Way Down South in Dixie
   (Bruised body high in air)
I asked the white Lord Jesus
   What was the use of prayer.

Way Down South in Dixie
   (Break the heart of me)
Love is a naked shadow
   On a gnarled and naked tree.

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