Harlem Renaissance, a blossoming of African American culture was and still is regarded as the most influential movement in the literary history of African Americans. By embracing the different literary forms and visual arts, artists sought to hypothesize the Negro apart from the rest of the white people population. The renaissance had most for its sources from the black people communities in the Caribbean and the United States of America and was well manifested even beyond the Harlem.
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This period was experienced between 1918 and 1939 between which Black exiles from Africa and the Caribbean crossed paths with other Americans from New York and other states after the World War I. This period was characterized with artistic & literary movements and civil rights & reforms organizations and available were magazines such as The Crisis to publish various artistic works. Langston Hughes rose to the poetry fame during this era. His works were actually motivated by activities that took place during this period when Blacks were denied the freedom and many rights that were enjoyed comfortably by other Americans. Therefore, instead of broadening his field of work, he was consumed by the politics revolving around the plight of the Blacks and he ended up basing most of his works, if not all, on this particular topic.
Langston Hughes a novelist, a poet, and playwright born on February 1st, 1902 in Missouri. He completed high school in 1920 after which he joined his father for a short stay in Mexico. Early in 1921, he published his first poem entitled The Negro Speaks of Rivers on the Crisis Magazine. He received very many praises and this acted as motivation to continue with poetry. In the same year, Hughes returned to the United States of America and enrolled at Columbia University and studied briefly before joining the Harlem burgeoning movement or commonly referred to as the Harlem Renaissance. He dropped out of Columbia the following year and joined a freighter as a steward. It is during this year that he was taken to Spain and Africa. After leaving the ship in 1924, he began concentrating much on his poetry. He met an American poet, Vachel Lindsay who was very instrumental in Hughes career as a poet especially seeing him through the first publication of his book in 1926. He went on to write incalculable plays, prose and worked of poetry as well as contributing on a popular column in Chicago Defender. In spite of his death from a complication caused by prostate cancer in May 1967, Langton’s works continue to be published and translated across the globe. He had consistent African-American themes of freedom and equality in much of his poetry.
The poem Let America be America again mainly focus on the idea of the American dream and how impossible to an aspect of attaining freedom, happiness and equality are for most of the Americans. The poem is presented as both a criticism of America as a nation and what it can possibly be. The speaker critiques what America has been in the past decades; full of oppression & greed and stained by power and on the other hand gives the reader what America can be in the future; a nation full of hope, equality, freedom, and justice for all. The speaker also outlines the reasons as to why ideal America is no more but it could still be. For the poor and oppressed in the society, the reality of a day when they will achieve and enjoy justice and happiness makes their dreams a cruel illusion that may never come to pass.
The entire poem screams out the plea to restore the old America that was habitable and a happy home for everyone. It is some kind of lyrical speech or personal hymn towards attaining freedom and justice for the people of America. For instance in the sixth to the eighth line in the poem, the poet expresses an emphasis on the initial version that the people had for America; as a nation of equality and unending love for everyone. He says neither Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed-let be that great strong land of love- Where never kings connive nor tyrants’ scheme. There is the hope of love in the future for the people who then will be equal. They would in turn stand against the tyrants who will try to scheme for a rush of the united nation.
Between lines eleven and sixteen, the speaker emphasizes the fact that to him America has never existed. He even highlights the outer ideals of the symbol of liberty in America. The use of capital ‘L’ in word Liberty can be viewed as a representation of the statue of liberty which is a famous icon symbolizing freedom. The same way that equality and happiness have been out of reach for the past years in America so does the speaker say about freedom. He says There’s never been equality for me, nor freedom in this ?homeland of the free. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker concludes by noting that despite the old terrible political and criminal system, Americans will still find a way to renew themselves, dust off and rebuild something sustainable for the current and future generations. There is still hope for the esteemed American dream. He says Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, we, the people, must redeem the land, the mines, the plants, the rivers, the mountains, and the endless plain.
Langston’s poem Refugee in America presented haunting echoes of the struggle for freedom and parity in America. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker says There are words like freedom, sweet and wonderful to say. On my heart-strings, freedom sings, all day every day. According to this first stanza, the entire concept of freedom, which most Americans lack, screams hope ad a yearning for greatness among the people. The speaker humanizes freedom as being able to sing deep in his heart in order to be able to bring out the point that it is an integral part of human life. Therefore, Americans should not rest until they have achieved it for everyone. In the twentieth century most Americans, especially black Americans struggled so much to achieve equality in America and up to the time Hughes was putting down this poem, some of them were still not fully liberated from the effects of racism in America.
The message behind the poem Refugee in America is clear; that regardless of the language spoken by any group of people: The actions truly matter. In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker says There are words like liberty, that almost make me cry. If you had known what I knew, you would know why. The term liberty is often used interchangeably with the word freedom. This means that in these lines, the speaker is still trying to accentuate on the concept of freedom but in different words. The point behind mentioning the same point in different terms could be to broaden the understanding of the reader. Liberty is the ability of someone to act out once presented with freedom. It is possible to be guaranteed freedom and be denied liberty. Hence, it is necessary to fight for both since they are complementary in nature. Every American should have the right to freedom and be able to access it in full capacity. That is why some Americans were perceived lost and in the hunt for liberation despite the fact that they had freedom.
The poem Harlem by Langston Hughes is majorly inclined towards the new mood that covered many African Americans after World War II. The writer, Langston, did not discriminate anyone’s dream no matter how lame or difficult to achieve it seemed. He took the stay of each dream to heart since for whatever African Americans did, their dreams always differed. The African Americans; a dream that is being addressed in the poem is the right to life, liberty, happiness and the quest for equality. The blacks were seeking parity in the land of opportunities and for a respected and dignified identity with the rest of American’s population. The speaker begins by asking a question about dreams. Later, he presents a series of follow-up questions on the possibilities of what might happen to a postponed dream. He asks, Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? (Hughes, 6). This statement carries with it a connotation of a dream that was once live and chances are that it is now no more; it is dry. Some time back, Blacks in America were hopeful that will attain some peace and liberty in the country but due to the delay of the issue, they almost gave up.
Later in the poem, the speaker likens unfulfilled dreams to a soar. He says Or does it fester like a sore and then run? A postponed dream like that of the blacks to be awarded liberty and happiness in the states is more so like a painful injury that inflicts pain on a patient when it is infected. He also asks, Or does it stink like rotten meat? All these questions add to the distaste of African Americans given that they are left out in the circle to enjoy rights as the other white Americans. The poet thus suggests that they should keep pestering the system until their dreams are realized. The entire poem is built on rhetoric questions regarding the pain African Americans had to go through before they got the freedom and liberty that they deserved.
Of the three poems analyzed above; Let America be America again, Refugee in America and Harlem, the themes of freedom and equality are greatly brought out. Actually, they come out almost naturally. The rhymes in all of the three poems tend to bring about a touch of familiarity of the theme to the audience as a way of reinforcing the meaning behind the words. The different speakers across the three poems address a common American dream; whether it is a deferred dream, undelivered freedom or the possibility that one day America will regain its previous state and become a haven of equality and peace to its entire population despite their colour and race orientations. In my view, the poet did a good job trying to pass the message on freedom and equality to the people of America and beyond. The poems undoubtedly delivered the message.
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