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Poems by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, more than any other poets, wrote about Harlem. More than other poets he was interested in and fascinated by the life of his Black community. His intimate understanding of the way his Black compatriots were living was readily reflected in his numerous works. It would be fair to say that Hughes’ works uniquely combined his personal concerns and reflections with the discussion of the growing social and racial tensions, as well as the changing attitudes toward the Negro population.

In this context, Hughes’s poems Mother to Son, Jazzonia, Trumpet Player, and The Weary Blues reveal the general tendencies the poet pursued in his creative career: these comprise his personal and social concerns, and use music as the instrument for reconsidering the most problematic social and political issues of his time. Hughes’s Mother to Son remains one of the critical and most famous works in his creative career.

In this poem, the poet describes his personal reminiscences and reflections against the background of poverty as the major social problem of the Black. “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” (Hughes). That the image of crystal stair is the central element of the poem is difficult to deny, but beyond that, the poem produces an impression of Hughes’s trying to look deeper into the quality of his relationships with his mother.

This theme of individual and even private relationships is concealed from the reader’s eye, and comes to the surface only after re-reading the poem several times. The fact that the mother is open in her revelations and discussions of her poor past, the fact that she recommends her son not to turn back, and that she finds enough strength to recognize the difficulties he most probably will encounter as he is climbing the crystal stair suggest that Hughes viewed mother’s role as of an advisor, a supporter, and a facilitator (if possible).

Whether Hughes describes his true attitudes toward mother, or whether he uses this anonymous image to depict an ideal mother is not clear, but for me, Hughes seems to be more concentrated on self-exploration, rather than on the exploration of an unknown woman: “I’se been a – climbin’ on, / And reachin’ landin’s, / And turnin’ corners, / And sometimes goin’ in the dark” (Hughes). This poem for me, as well as for many others, shows how Hughes speaks about the poverty, which his community had to experience at different moments of his life.

It also seems that this poverty and these sufferings prevail in most of his poems. The Weary Blues, Jazzonia, Trumpet Player – all these are social and not romantic poems. These poems also show that music can be successfully used to describe the most problematic issues. Also, music turns out the sign and the symptom of the Blacks’ rich culture, heritage, and soul. Nowhere else but in Jazzonia and Trumpet Player as well as in The Weary Blues does Hughes seek to link his black realities to a kind of musical performance.

On the one hand, there is a persistent impression that in his poems, music stands out as the sign of the rich history, which his compatriots wanted to preserve. On the other hand, music seems to be the medium which Hughes’s community could use to distract themselves from the cruel reality. When Hughes compares music to the Garden of Eden, he also shows the true beauty of music as the means of self-expression: “Oh! Shining tree! / Oh, shining river of the soul! / Were Eve’s eyes / In the first garden / Just a bit too bold? / Was Cleopatra gorgeous / In a gown of gold?

” (Hughes). Why the garden of Eden? This is a difficult question. It is possible that as the garden was seductive for Eve, in the same manner, music was seductive for Hughes. May be, as Eve was forbidden to return to the garden, in the same way, the Black community could be forbidden to openly use music as a part of their unique culture. However, the mere fact that Hughes participates and is actively engaged in performance confirms the overwhelming power of music. This power stretches beyond the limits of musical performance but covers a range of social and economic issues.

Here, it is due to Trumpet Player that the reader can look deeper into the way Hughes black contemporary had to lead their lives. In Trumpet Player we read: “The Negro / With the trumpet at his lips / Has dark moons of weariness / Beneath his eyes / where the smoldering memory / of slave ships / Blazed to the crack of whips / about thighs” (Hughes). It looks like the poet wants to emphasize that slavery in the Black community is still relevant, and that the memories which Trumpet player hides beneath his eyes are still real.

In this difficult situation, the player does not have any other choice but to use music as the key to his soul. This mysterious link between music and soul is also discussed in The Weary Blues: “In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan” (Hughes). What seems to be true though, and what turns out the persistent impression when reading these poems, is that neither Hughes nor his compatriots can see any positive sides in their lives except for music.

Music is expected to express their Negro identity, to help them forget the tragedies of the past, and to create optimistic moods into the future. Unfortunately, life in Hughes’s poems is filled with tragedies and sufferings; but music can create miracles, and where Trumpet Player ends with “the golden note”, it also means that until the very last moment Hughes does not lose a hope that his people will finally find happiness. Conclusion Langston Hughes is fairly regarded as the true child of Harlem.

His poems are overfilled with emotions he used to experience toward his compatriots. His works reflect the growing racial tensions, the difficulties Black people had to encounter on their way to liberation, as well as the problems of culture and heritage, of which music was the central element. Hughes’s poems may create a false impression that the life of the Negro community was nothing but music; in reality, those people did not have any other chance but to express their concerns through music.

In their lives, music was not entertaining, but had to preserve the purity of the Black soul in the face of social and economic difficulties. Works Cited Hughes, L. “Jazzonia. ” 1923. Poemhunter. 23 July 2009. http://www. poemhunter. com/poem/jazzonia/ Hughes, L. “Mother to Son. ” 1922. Poemhunter. 23 July 2009. http://www. poemhunter. com/poem/mother-to-son/ Hughes, L. “Trumpet Player. ” 1925. Old Poetry. 23 July 2009. http://oldpoetry. com/opoem/52073-Langston-Hughes-Trumpet-Player Hughes, L. “The Weary Blues. ” 1923. Poets. org. 23 July 2009. http://www. poets. org/viewmedia. php/prmMID/15612

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