Poetry as Social Challenge in Any Situation Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2057 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Literature

Poetry as Social Challenge

In any situation of social or indeed personal upheaval, artists and writers play a central role in shaping the collective consciousness of their environment. Langston Hughes and Adrienne Rich are no exceptions. While Hughes takes a less angry position than Rich, both poets in their own way calls people to political action, and to an awareness of issues that need to be addressed in the society from which they emerge. Another interesting fact about these poets is that they do not write only about social problems, but also do so from an intensely personal viewpoint. As a black man, Hughes focuses his work mainly on African-Americans, while Rich's work revolves mainly around feminism and women's issues. As such, both poets use their own experience and feelings about the respective lives and issues facing blacks and women in the society of their time.

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. Hughes had a rather unsettled youth, as his parents were divorced. This meant that Hughes moved around rather more than other young children, spending some years with his grandmother, some with this mother and her husband. It was during the time when he moved to live with his mother that Hughes began to write poetry. Later, he would identify his main literary influences as Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman (Academy of American Poets). The poem that launched Hughes' career is "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (Rampersad).

Another important influencing factor for the poet is his family life. There appears to be a dichotomy between the neglect he suffered from his parents and the connections he formed with other members of his extended family, including his grandmother and John Mercer Langston, one of his grandfather's brothers. Hughes received his sense of dedication during his years in his grandmother's house. The desolation he experienced as a result of his parents' situation drove him to books, and his concomitant love for literature (Rampersad). The combination of these factors led the poet to his profession, although he spent years traveling and taking menial jobs in order to support himself. During these years, the poet's dedication to his art brought him notoriety as a gifted young poet in African-American literary circles.

Music also played an important part in Hughes' poetry. Particularly, black music in the form of jazz and blued led Hughes to creating interesting new forms of poetry that incorporated the rhythms of his favorite music. Particularly, the Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) are representative of this kind of poetry. Hughes therefore acted as an inspirational force not only to poets, but also to readers, to reshape the familiar into something new and sparkling. He did this not only via the words his used in his work, but also through the innovative and exciting forms he used. In this, he particularly targeted the black community in calling them from cultural complacency. Like he challenged established forms of poetry, Hughes also challenged the complacency that would keep the black community from achieving equality and freedom in society.

Hughes used his art as a platform for cultivating cultural pride. His emphasis on the lower-class black situation in his work however earned him little respect from the black press, who criticized him harshly for this. Still, this poetry also led to the poet's establishment as an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. By emphasizing the situations both he and many others suffered in their daily lives, one of Hughes' aims can be seen as calling the black culture towards a type of rebellion against such a situation in a country that prides itself on its orientation towards opportunity.

Another important relationship in Hughes' life is that with his patron Mrs. Charlotte Mason, who supported him during his two years of his study at the Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His relationship with Mrs. Mason broke down at the time when he published his first novel, Not Without Laughter (1930) (Rampersad). This had a powerful emotional effect on the young poet, which manifested itself in his turn to the far political left, and a journey to the Soviet Union, where he spend a year from 1932 to 1933. Of course the disillusionment he suffered during this time also became evident in his poetry during this year, which was his most radical to date. In this way, not only the poet's ties to his society, but also his inner world, are used in order to write work that is energetic, inspiring and radical.

After some years in Europe, Hughes returned to the United States in 1938 and founded the Harlem Suitcase Theater. He incorporated several of his most radical poems in the play, Don't You Want to be Free?, in which black nationalism, the blues, and socialist exhortation were blended to call the audience to action. More of his radical verse was published in a pamphlet called "A New Song."

Hughes' political involvement became even stronger during and after World War II, during which he attacked racial segregation and the social injustice that often runs parallel with this. His collection Jim Crow's Last Stand (1943) is a particularly strong example of this (Rampersad). After the war, his verse collection Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) once again used a fusion of poetry with the discordant sounds of the jazz during this time. Such discord, along with the words in his work, is indicative of an increasing desperation in the black community, and particularly in the communities of the North. Concomitantly, Hughes was constantly harassed by the right wing because of his left orientation. This went as far as accusing Hughes of being Communist during the McCarthyism era. These accusations were however discredited together with Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was responsible for the public humiliation of many innocent people.

Adrienne Rich

Like Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich used both her personal situation and her social life as influences for her poetry. The basic premise of her work is the contemporary women's movement, while she addresses a wide range of subjects within this area. These subjects include the politics of sexuality, race, language, power, and women's culture (Pope). Also like Hughes, Rich used her social environment as a basis not only for her own inspiration, but also to inspire others. Adrienne Rich's work stands at the heart of the modern feminist movement, calling society to stand against the evils of racism, militarism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism.

Adrienne Rich was born on 16 May 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. Rich's family life, like that of Hughes, serves as a strong influence on her work. The intellectual presence of her father combined with the subtle tension between her father's Jewish heritage and her mother's Protestantism. She strongly identified with her father's intellect, while also longing for his approval. It was with her father's help that she began to write poetry. And interesting factor in this is that she conformed to his tutelage long after her first success.

Rich's earlier poems also clearly showed the stylistic elements used by Frost, Yeats, Stevens and Auden. In many ways, the evidence of this influence rather than the merit of the work itself brought the poet her first acclaim. Her word was also however described as elegant in technique, with chiseled formalism and restrained emotional content (Pope).

In terms of her personal experience, Rich's marriage to Alfred Conrad and the subsequent children marked the beginning of a difficult period in terms of the conflict between womanhood and art. In addition, there were no cultural structures at the time that could support her in her conflicted feelings relating to the different roles she was expected to portray, along with her feelings regarding sexuality, creativity, love and anger. As a result, these feelings made her feel guilty, as if she did not have a right to feel this way (Pope). It is not difficult to see how her father's strictly formal influence on her early poetry relates to this. Rich lived and worked in a male-dominated world, where there was little understanding of the female professional, who was also involved in running a home and family.

A turning point arrived for Rich with her book Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963). Her poetry in this book marks an separation process from her father's teaching, as well as from the male poets that influenced her earlier work. In this, her language becomes freer, intimate and contextual, with themes that she regarded as personally important, including language, boundaries, resistance, and escape (Pope). While this work is much more honest than her previous poetry, the general critical reaction was negative. One can see a connection between this and the fact that the social structures to understand Rich's situation did not exist at the time. Furthermore, critics have come to expect a certain style and formalism from the poet, and Snapshots was regarded as a violation of this expectation. This reaction pushed Rich further into a feeling of failure, as if… [END OF PREVIEW]

Four Different Ordering Options:

?

Compare the Four Ordering Options

  1. 1.Buy this paper with your credit card or cash balance at PayPal.  Within 10 hours, we'll send the Microsoft Word file to the email address on your PayPal account.
  2. 2.Same as #1, but we will also remove the paper from our site for 30 days!
  3. 3.Need this paper immediately?  Want to individually download any of our 175,000+ exclusive, private, non-plagiarized papers for 30 days?  It takes only 2 minutes to subscribe and get instant access!
  4. 4.One of our highly experienced experts will write a brand new, 100% unique paper matching the exact specifications and topic that you provide!  You'll be the only person on the planet to receive the one-of-a-kind paper that we write for you!  Use code "Save10" to save 10% on your 1st order!

1.  Buy the full, 6-page paper:  $24.68

or

2.  Buy & remove for 30 days:  $38.47

or

3.  Monthly access to 175,000 papers

After paying, this link will download any paper(s).

or

4.  Let us write a NEW paper for you!

Ask Us to Write a New Paper
Most popular!

Poetry Has Often Been an Innocuous Demand Term Paper


Poetry Anthology for Many Readers Term Paper


Sylvia Plath's Poetry Essay


Educational Psychology Social Processes: Examples and Utility Essay


History of Rosicrucian Order Thesis


View 269 other related papers  >>

Cite This Term Paper:

APA Format

Poetry as Social Challenge in Any Situation.  (2007, July 15).  Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/poetry-social-challenge-situation/6370

MLA Format

"Poetry as Social Challenge in Any Situation."  15 July 2007.  Web.  11 December 2018. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/poetry-social-challenge-situation/6370>.

Chicago Format

"Poetry as Social Challenge in Any Situation."  Essaytown.com.  July 15, 2007.  Accessed December 11, 2018.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/poetry-social-challenge-situation/6370.