“My People” by Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes in 1936 by Carl Van Vechten

My People

The night is beautiful,

So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

“When Sue Wears Red”


by Langston Hughes



Portrait of Langston Hughes. Photo by Gordon Parks / Library of Congress.

When Susanna Jones wears red
Her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.

Come with a blast of trumpets,
Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.

Blow trumpets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,
Jesus!

“Theme for English B”


by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes portrait by Carl van Vechten in 1936 (SOURCE: U.S. Library of Congress)
Listen to “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

An Excerpt from “Heritage” by Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)


What is Africa to me:

Copper sun or scarlet sea,

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprang

When the birds of Eden sang?

One three centuries removed

From the scenes his fathers loved,

Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,

What is Africa to me?

“Ars Poetica” by Archibald Macleish


Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

A poem should be wordless   
As the flight of birds.

                         *               

A poem should be motionless in time   
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,   
Memory by memory the mind—

A poem should be motionless in time   
As the moon climbs.

                         *               

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean   
But be.

“Tuskegee” by Leslie Pinckney Hill (1880 – 1960)


Wherefore this busy labor without rest?
Is it an idle dream to which we cling,
Here where a thousand dusky toilers sing
Unto the world their hope? “Build we our best.
By hand and thought,” they cry, “although unblessed.”
So the great engines throb, and anvils ring,
And so the thought is wedded to the thing;
But what shall be the end, and what the test?
Dear God, we dare not answer, we can see
Not many steps ahead, but this we know—
If all our toilsome building is in vain,
Availing not to set our manhood free,
If envious hate roots out the seed we sow,
The South will wear eternally a stain.

“Star of Ethiopia” by Lucian B. Watkins (1871 – 1938)


Out in the Night thou art the sun
Toward which thy soul-charmed children run,
  The faith-high height whereon they see
  The glory of their Day To Be—
The peace at last when all is done.

The night is dark but, one by one,
Thy signals, ever and anon,
  Smile beacon answers to their plea,
  Out in the Night.

Ah, Life! thy storms these cannot shun;
Give them a hope to rest upon,
  A dream to dream eternally,
  The strength of men who would be free
And win the battle race begun,
  Out in the Night!

“Little Brown Baby” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)


Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes,
  Come to yo’ pappy an’ set on his knee.
What you been doin’, suh—makin’ san’ pies?
  Look at dat bib—You’s ez du’ty ez me.
Look at dat mouf—dat’s merlasses, I bet;
  Come hyeah, Maria, an’ wipe off his han’s.
Bees gwine to ketch you an’ eat you up yit,
  Bein’ so sticky an’ sweet—goodness lan’s!

Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes
  Who’s pappy’s darlin’ an’ who’s pappy’s chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
  Fu’ to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
Whah did you git dem teef? My, you’s a scamp!
  Whah did dat dimple come f’om in yo’ chin?
Pappy do’ know you—I b’lieves you’s a tramp;
  Mammy, dis hyeah’s some ol’ straggler got in!

Let’s th’ow him outen de do’ in de san’,
  We do’ want stragglers a-layin’ ‘roun’ hyeah;
Let’s gin him ‘way to de big buggah-man;
  I know he’s hidin’ erroun’ hyeah right neah.
Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do’,
  Hyeah’s a bad boy you kin have fu’ to eat.
Mammy an’ pappy do’ want him no mo’,
  Swaller him down f’om his haid to his feet!

Dah, now, I t’ought dat you’d hug me up close.
  Go back, ol’ buggah, you sha’n’t have dis boy.
He ain’t no tramp, ner no straggler, of co’se;
  He’s pappy’s pa’dner an’ playmate an’ joy.
Come to you’ pallet now—go to you’ res’;
  Wisht you could allus know ease an’ cleah skies;
Wisht you could stay jes’ a chile on my breas’—
  Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes!

“Dreams” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)


What dreams we have and how they fly
Like rosy clouds across the sky;
Of wealth, of fame, of sure success,
Of love that comes to cheer and bless;
And how they wither, how they fade,
The waning wealth, the jilting jade –
The fame that for a moment gleams,
Then flies forever, -dreams, ah -dreams!

O burning doubt and long regret
O tears with which our eyes are wet,
Heart-throbs, heart-aches, the glut of pain,
The somber cloud, the bitter rain,
You were not of those dreams – ah! well,
Your full fruition who can tell?
Wealth, fame, and love, ah! love that beams
Upon our souls, all dreams – ah! dreams.

“First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)


My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends---
It gives a lovely light.