Langston Hughes: Poet of Experience and Education Essay

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Langston Hughes: Poet of Experience and Education

Experience often shapes the individual in more ways than we realize. The most successful people take their experiences and turn them into something that is positive. Langston Hughes demonstrates how an individual can do this through literature. His poems explore the self that Hughes became but only after suffering at the hand of segregation. His poems touch upon issues that became important to him. Hughes is known for his ability to be poetic and maintain his sense of self and his awareness of his heritage. In fact, it is his heritage that shapes most of his poetry. For example, we see the poet and his experience in "Harlem," a mood that sets the toe for any entire generation. Other poems that speak about the poet's heritage include, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "The Weary Blues," "Freedom Train," and "Theme for English B." Hughes' poetry also explores the experiences of other that might experience another slice of life as seen in "Song for a Dark Girl." Hughes' poetry looks at certain life experiences from different points-of-view with the desire to educate others. Hughes wanted other to learn something from him and he has learned over the course of his years. Experience and education become the focus of poetry, as Hughes attempts to educate through his experience.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Essay on Langston Hughes: Poet of Experience and Education Assignment

Experience is an important factor to Hughes', as he is willing to not only learn from his experiences but also allow them to shape him into a better person. His passion drove him to succeed and become one of the most popular poets of his day. Paul Lauter claims that Hughes was a "bright young star of the Negro Renaissance" (Lauter 1487) and that Hughes' biggest discovery was Harlem. In Harlem Hughes explored music and feeling as well as language and from this time in his life, he became proud of his heritage. It should be noted that one of Hughes' most painful experiences is one that caused him to be such a prolific writer. The experience of prejudice changed Hughes' life because it made him aware of the suffering of others. Lauder claims the poet was, "steadfast in his devotion to human rights" (1487). Michael Schmidt emphasizes the significance of Hughes' efforts in the Harlem Renaissance, noting that Hughes was the "bard of Harlem" (Schmidt 707). Schmidt asserts that Hughes incorporated much of his experiences into his art, stating that the poet wrote in "two modes, one drawing rhythms from jazz and the blues, a poetry with ironies and radical reversals generally avoids staginess; and poems of racial protest and definition" (Schmidt 708). Being African-c, intelligent, poetic, and alive

Hughes cannot be mentioned with out mentioning his influence on the Harlem Renaissance. The poem, "Harlem" might prove to be one of the most popular pieces from this time. A man's dream is the central theme o f the poem with the poet asking the question of what happens to a man when he cannot reach or is prevented from reaching his dream. Niemi claims that this poem is "justly revered as Hughes's most powerful poem of social protest" (Niemi 415). This is primarily because the poet has is brake even to approach the topic and asks the important questions. The poet wants to know what happens to the African-American when his dream is "endlessly deferred by white society" (415). The poem is nothing but a series of questions that cause the audience to think. The poet asks, "What happens to a dream deferred?" (Hughes Harlem 1) and begins to elaborate on what might happen when a dream is not allowed to be achieved. The conclusion of the poem asks, "Or does it explode?" (10), suggesting that broken dreams might be one of the most dangerous things that can happen. Niemi explains, "The question is a veiled warning that the ghetto may one day erupt in violence" (Niemi 415). Phillips explains that the last question the poet poses is one that is intended to "shock and enlighten readers as to the explosive spirit and drive fueling an American dream and a determined people" (Phillips). The images of "raisin in the sun" (Hughes 3), and the "stink of rotten meat" (6) are what Phillips claims are "incendiary devices in the service of this dream that will not die" (Phillips). The poet wants to experience as much of his topic as possible. When the reader can literally see and smell what the poet is experiencing, they are more likely to relate to the subject matter and remember it. The point Hughes wants us to recognize in the poem is that dreams belong to everyone and no one has the right to squash someone else's dream.

One of Hughes' primary concerns deals with racial affirmation. His hopes for America were such that everyone, regardless of color, would be treated equally and with respect. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," one of his early poem demonstrates that this desire. In this poem, our attention is brought to the poet's connection to his heritage. In that heritage, we find an unbreakable bond between the poet and African and American rivers. The rivers flow like the poet's blood in his veins. He states, "I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of/human blood in human veins./My soul has gown deep like the rivers" (Hughes Negro Speaks of Rivers 2-4). Here we can see how the poet feels connected to his past. It is also significant to note that the poet is not ashamed of his heritage. He writes, "I bathed in the Euphrates when the dawns were young./I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep" (5-6). The power of language is illustrated with this poem in that Hughes writes with a sense of pride. The images of the rivers reveal the undying legacy of African-Americans and their ability to endure.

Another poem that touches on the topic of African-American oppression from a slightly different point-of-view is "Theme for English B." In this poem, the poet is the only African-American in the classroom and he comes to terms with that through self-examination. The speaker is remembering aspects of his past when he interjects Harlem into the poem. Harlem becomes important as the speaker explores his identity. The poem illustrates the importance of self-discovery. In this poem, the speaker is attempting to complete an assignment and make it relevant to his experience of being African-American. The speaker wants to educate as well as be educated. He acknowledges, "It's not easy to know what is true for you or me" (Hughes Theme for English B. 16) and "you are white- / yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. / That's American" (31-3). The poet never loses sight of this idea and continues to explore it. The speaker includes his professor in his poem as well as the rest of America. Here we see the poet attempting to learn from his human experience and put it on paper.

The truth of the African-American life is often associated with pain and suffering. One poem that captures the painful truth is "Song for a Dark Girl." This Harlem dialect in this poem is one that Schmidt claims "brings character and circumstance alive" (Schmidt 708). The theme of lunching becomes more powerful when it is presented in a realistic dialect. We know the occurrence is "Way Down South in Dixie," (Hughes Song for a Dark Girl 1), where racial oppression was at it worst. Brutality surfaces when the poet states, "They hung my black young lover / to a cross roads tree. (1-4). The image is cemented in our memory when the poet closes the poem with the poet's sad assertion the "Love is a naked shadow / on a gnarled and naked tree" (11-2). This poem is short and powerful and it demonstrates how cruel men can be to one another. In "Freedom Train," we see the theme of hope as the speaker tries to explain his situation. He mentions Jimmy, who wants to know if his freedom train will come "zoomin' down the track" (49). The train is one that does not recognize the color of one's skin but rather stops for all in "fields in the broad daylight" (52). This poem explores the nature of desire as African-Amerians desire for a better life. These poems look at how oppression affects individuals and their attitudes.

Hughes' heritage involves more than just being African-American. Hughes also enjoyed jazz music and it became a significant aspect of his life. Hughes often experimented with poetry as music and one poem where the blues and jazz emerge is "The Weary Blues." In colloquial dialect and easy rhythm, Hughes captures the essence of music and poetry. He writes: "In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone / I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan" (Hughes Weary Blues). The way in which this poem moves is like a song… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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