Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Langston Hughes: some short poems gathered at random

The following poems come from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. These are the ones that I stopped to read a second time as I browsed through the book, opening randomly at various pages. As I write this, I'm not sure why they interested me, though. Perhaps another reading might give me a clue.


Today like yesterday
Tomorrow like today;
The drip, drip, drip,
Of monotony
Is wearing my life away;
Today like yesterday,
Tomorrow like today.

It ends the way it begins--does that suggest monotony? He resists the impulse to make a logic chain of the two repeated lines. He could have written--

Yesterday like today
Today like tomorrow

which gives us the following progression: Yesterday-->Today-->Tomorrow

Instead he gives us-- Today-->Yesterday-->Tomorrow-->Today

Perhaps it's because the one I suggested shows a direct line from yesterday to today to tomorrow, which denotes a progression, while what he gave us was more like a circle from today to yesterday to tomorrow and back to today--no beginning and no end--monotonous.


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Without dreams, we can't leave the ground. Without dreams life cannot come forth. It seems that dreams are elusive and transient, and we must "Hold fast" to them. Could the cure for monotony be a dream?


The ivory gods,
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond and jade,
Sit silently on their temple shelves
While the people are afraid.
Yet the ivory gods
And the ebony gods,
And the gods of diamond-jade,
Are only silly puppet gods
That the people themselves
Have made.

I think he forgot the most prevelant gods that the people make and worship and fear: entertainers, athletes, politicians, the past . . .

The Dream Keeper

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

When I read The Dream Keeper, I immediately thought of the earlier one, Dreams. This poem also suggests that dreams are transient and fragile, which is why they belong off this earth, castles in the sky.


Poetry should treat
Of lofty things
Soaring thoughts
And birds with wings.

The Muse of Poetry
Should not know
That roses
In manure grow.

The Muse of Poetry
Should not care
That earthly pain
Is everywhere.

Treats of lofty things
Soaring thoughts
And birds with wings.

Is there a touch of irony here?


  1. Fred,

    I think that last poem, Formula, is written ironically. From what I've read about Hughes, he was criticized by other Black writers ( and the Black community) of writing about the seamy side of their lives and that it made them all look bad to the White community. They said his writing should only show the nobility of their lives. This poem, I think, could be in response to that.

  2. I especially like The Dream Keeper. I wish there was a way of keeping dreams from unraveling.

  3. Cheryl,

    Yes, I agree. I think there's considerable irony in "Formula." The title itself suggests that. Hughes never was afraid to write about the bad side as well as the good side of life.

    That's why he's remembered and his critics aren't.

  4. Yvette,

    Unfortunately, the dream keeper seems to have the only solution--keep them safe from the world.