Saturday, November 16, 2019

Langston Hughes Essay Example for Free

Langston Hughes Essay Of the major black writers who first made their appearance during the exciting period of the 1920s commonly referred to as â€Å"the Harlem Renaissance,† Langston Hughes was the most prolific and the most successful. As the Harlem Renaissance gave way to the Depression, Hughes determined to sustain his career as a poet by bringing his poetry to the people. At the suggestion of Mary McLeod Bethune, he launched his career as a public speaker by embarking on an extensive lecture tour of the South. As he wrote in his autobiography: â€Å"Propelled by the backwash of the â€Å"Harlem Renaissance† of the early twenties, I had been drifting along pleasantly on the delightful rewards of my poems which seemed to please the fancy of kindhearted New York ladies with money to help young writers. . . . There was one other dilemmahow to make a living from the kind of writing I wanted to do. . . . I wanted to write seriously and as well as I knew how about the Negro people, and make that kind of writing earn me a livin† (Hughes, 1964:31). Alain Locke, the leading exponent of â€Å"The New Negro,† announced that the black masses had found their voice: A true peoples poet has their balladry in his veins; and to me many of these poems seem based on rhythms as seasoned as folksongs and on moods as deep-seated as folk-ballads. Dunbar is supposed to have expressed the peasant heart of the people. But Dunbar was the showman of the Negro masses; here is their spokesman (Killens ed. 1960:41). Though much of the poetry Hughes was to write in the thirties and afterward was to differ markedly in terms of social content from the poetry he was producing in the twenties, a careful examination of his early work will reveal, in germinal form, the basic themes which were to preoccupy him throughout his career. Hughes’s evolution as a poet cannot be seen apart from the circumstances of his life which thrust him into the role of poet. Indeed, it was Hughes’s awareness of what he personally regarded as a rather unique childhood which determined him in his drive to express, through poetry, the feelings of the black masses and their questions of identity. In â€Å"The Weary Blues†, Hughes presented the problem of dual consciousness quite cleverly by placing two parenthetical statements of identity as the opening and closing poems, and titling them Proem and Epilogue. Their opening lines suggest the polarities of consciousness between which the poet located his own persona: â€Å"I Am a Negro† and â€Å"I, Too, Sing America. † Within each of these poems, Hughes suggests the interrelatedness of the two identities: the line â€Å"I am a Negro† is echoed as â€Å"I am the darker brother† in the closing poem. Between the American and the Negro, a third identity is suggested: that of the poet or â€Å"singer. † It is this latter persona which Hughes had assumed for himself in his attempt to resolve the dilemma of divided consciousness. Thus, within the confines of these two poems revolving around identity, Hughes is presenting his poetry as a kind of salvation. If one looks more closely at Hughes’s organization of poems in the book, one finds that his true opening and closing poems are concerned not with identity but with patterns of cyclical time. The Weary Blues (the first poem) is about a black piano man who plays deep into the night until at last he falls into sleep like a rock or a man thats dead. The last poem, on the other hand, suggests a rebirth, an awakening, after the long night of weary blues: â€Å"We have tomorrow/ Bright before us/Like a flame† (Hughes 1926:109). Hughes viewed the poet’s role as one of responsibility: the poet must strive to maintain his objectivity and artistic distance, while at the same time speaking with passion through the medium he has selected for himself. In a speech given before the American Society of African Culture in 1960, Hughes urged his fellow black writers to cultivate objectivity in dealing with blackness: â€Å"Advice to Negro writers: Step outside yourself, then look back and you will see how human, yet how beautiful and black you are. How very black even when you’re integrated† (Killens ed. 1960:44). In another part of the speech, Hughes stressed art over race: â€Å"In the great sense of the word, anytime, any place, good art transcends land, race, or nationality, and color drops away. If you are a good writer, in the end neither blackness nor whiteness makes a difference to readers† (Killens ed. 1960:47). This philosophy of artistic distance was integral to Hughes’s argument in the much earlier essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, which became a rallying call to young black writers of the twenties concerned with reconciling artistic freedom with racial expression: â€Å"It is the duty of the younger Negro artist if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering I want to be white hidden in the aspirations of his people, to Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro and beautiful! ’† In this greatly thought-out manifesto, Hughes attempted to integrate the two facets of double consciousness (the American and the Negro) into a single vision-that of the poet. His poetry had reflected this idea from the beginning, when he published The Negro Speaks of Rivers at the age of nineteen. Arna Bontemps, in a retrospective glance at the Harlem Renaissance from the distance of almost fifty years, was referring to The Negro Speaks of Rivers when he commented: â€Å"And almost the first utterance of the revival struck a note that disturbed poetic tradition. † (Addison ed. 1988:83). In Hughes’s poetry, the central element of importance is the affirmation of blackness. Everything that distinguished Hughes’s poetry from the white poets of the twenties revolved around this important affirmation. Musical idioms, jazz rhythms, Hughes’s special brand of â€Å"black-white† irony, and dialect were all dependent on the priority of black selfhood: â€Å"I am a Negro/Black as the night is black/Black like the depths of my Africa† (Hughes 1926:108). Hughes wrote in his autobiography: My best poems were all written when I felt the worst. When I was happy, I didnt write anything (Hughes 1991:54). When he first began writing poetry, he felt his lyrics were too personal to reveal to others: Poems came to me now spontaneously, from somewhere inside. . . . I put the poems down quickly on anything I had a hand when they came into my head, and later I copied them into a notebook. But I began to be afraid to show my poems to anybody, because they had become very serious and very much a part of me. And I was afraid other people might not like them or understand them (Hughes: 34). These two statements regarding his poetry suggest deep underlying emotional tensions as being the source of his creativity. And yet the personal element in Hughes’s poetry is almost entirely submerged beneath the persona of the Negro Poet Laureate. If, as Hughes suggested, personal unhappiness was the cornerstone of his best work, it then follows that, in order to maintain the singleness of purpose and devotion to his art, he would be required to sacrifice some degree of emotional stability. The persona of the poet was the role Hughes adopted in his very first published poem, as the Negro in The Negro Speaks of Rivers. It was a persona to which he would remain faithful throughout his lengthy career. The link between his personal experiences and his poetry has been always evident. References Addison Gayle, Jr. , ed. (1988). â€Å"Negro Poets, Then and Now,† in Black Expression: Essays by and About Black Americans in the Creative Arts, New York: Weybright Talley Langston Hughes (1964). I Wonder As I Wander, New York: Hill Wang Langston Hughes (1926). The Weary Blues, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, reprinted, 1982 Langston Hughes (1991). The Big Sea: An Autobiography. 1940. New York: Hill Wang Killens, John O. ,ed. (1960). â€Å"Writers: Black and White†, The American Negro Writer and His Roots: Selected Papers from the First Conference of Negro Writers, March. New York: American Society of African Culture

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