Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Langston Hughes: two poems

Empty House

It was in the empty house
That I came to dwell
And in the empty house
I found an empty hell.

Why is it that an empty house
Untouched by human strife
Can hold more woe
Than the wide world holds,
More pain than a cutting knife?

Is he really talking about an empty house?  What is "an empty hell"?   How could it be empty if it was filled with woe and pain?

Minstrel Man

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter 
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
I die?

 -- Langston Hughes --
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

I think "Minstrel Mancould have been included in a previous post of mine, Congruence (Jan. 29, 2014).   On the other hand, it also shares the idea of hidden grief with another powerful poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, "We wear the mask."  This is the last stanza (the complete poem is posted on June 27, 2009).

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
- Paul Laurence Dunbar -


  1. I read about two years ago one of Hughes short stories, "Yes, Ma'm"- an interesting work

  2. mel u,

    I think I read that one long ago. I have read more of his poetry than his fiction, though. But, one of these days. . .

  3. Fred,

    Perhaps the empty house is his loneliness? If others are around to comfort and encourage you in your pain, then the pain is easier to bear. He is alone, so although there is no one there to cause strife, there is no one there to give him comfort.

  4. Cheryl,

    Yes, that makes sense, given the wording of the poem.