Monday, November 12, 2007

Hughes' mixture of styles in “Let America Be America Again” and other poems

“Let America Be America Again” and other poems is a collection of poems written by Langston Hughes. These poems express Hughes’ idea of how America was supposed to be free for all, but then ended up only benefiting the white upper-class, while the foreigners and the poor suffered due to not having the same wealth. These poems voice the desire for an America that matches the expectations it upholds, a land of opportunity, a land that is free for everybody, etc. On the other hand, some of the poems call for peace between countries and desire less bloodshed to be spilled over war. Furthermore, due to the book being a collection, the poems aren’t all related and some don’t seem to do with freedom or peace at first read because of the greater use of metaphors. Nevertheless, these out-of-place poems increase the value of the book because they show that Hughes can present his ideas by writing very directly and simplistically and at the same time use only metaphors to prove his point.

The majority of the poems in the book call for an America that is free and provides better economic opportunities for people of all races. One poem that presents this theme clearly is the first poem in the book, “Let America Be America Again.” It describes what America was supposed to be – a land to be shared by all the colors that helped build it – and then shows America through the eyes of the lower-class whites, blacks, Native Americans, immigrants and contrasts it America in the eyes of the upper-class whites. For the upper-class whites, America is a land filled with poor people that can be put to work to help them gain more money. On the other hand, for the poorer population, America is the “same old stupid plan/of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak” (lines 23-4). This means that America doesn’t offer as many opportunities as were expected. The rhyming and short stanzas in this poem allow the reader to understand the force with which the narrator would read the poem.

The rhyme scheme and short stanzas in this poem help drive the assertive emotion in this poem. The rhyming helps emphasize words by strongly punctuating them instead of enjambing them: “Let America be America again./ Let it be the dream it used to be./ Let it be the pioneer on the plain/ Seeking a home where he himself is free” (1-4). As can be seen in the lines provided, Hughes uses rhymes scheme and punctuation to emphasize “free” at the end of that stanza, strengthening the word that directly relates to the theme the poem encompasses. Another poem written in a plea for peace uses two longer stanzas, but still has the rhyme scheme and uses repetition for further emphasis of certain points.

Unlike “Let America Be America Again,” “Some Day” asks for peace and less blood spilled from war. This poem is separated into two stanzas: a narration and a hopeful look at the future. In the first stanza, the poem repeats the words “once more” in the first and third line in order to depict the endless cycle of evil that consumes our world: “Once more/ the guns roar./ Once more/ The call goes forth for men” (1-4). Due to man’s evil nature, people are always trying to kill each other, which leads to a world filled with war, “Again/ The war begins,/ Again/ False slogans become a bore” (5-8). “Again” is repeated in lines five and seven to show how endless violence leads to endless wars, supported by propaganda (the “false slogans” cited in line eight).

The second stanza brightens the mood of the poem in its last three lines, “Like flowers planted in the sun,/ We, too, can give forth blossoms,/ Shared by everyone” (23-5). In these lines, Hughes is telling the reader that even though the violence seems eternal now, some day we will have children that will love each other and live in peace (the “blossoms” that will be “shared by everyone”). Most of the poems in the book have to do with either the improper growth of America, or they deal with the idea of peace among all people. On the other hand, some poems seem like they don’t belong in the book because they don’t seem to fit in either of the categories referenced above due to their use of metaphors as opposed to directly describing their messages.

“Dare” is a poem that’s as short as its title. Its eight lines carry a message of struggling for equality; but the difference between “Dare” and the other poems cited is that the other poems want freedom for all people whereas “Dare” concentrates on black people only. This can be argued because of the imagery used in the poem. The poem starts out with “Let darkness/ Gather up its roses/ Cupping softness/ In the hand-” (1-4). Here, Hughes is telling black people, the “darkness,” to come together in love and in spirit. He then writes “Till the hard fist/ Of sunshine/ Dares the dark/ To stand” (5-8). With this, he’s telling blacks to congregate and create a strong community, “hard fist of sunshine,” that will rise against the injustices faced by blacks, “the dark.” The use of metaphors and less direct speech in this poem increases the value of the book because it shows that Hughes can write powerful poetry in different styles.

“Let America Be America” and other poems is a powerful book of short poems. The poems deal with issues of improper development of America and how it never became the land of opportunity and equality for all races, as it was supposed to be (similar to “Let America Be America”). Some poems take the issue further and criticize man on his obsession with war and hope for a day when all children will be able to love each other and treat each other equally (similar to “Some Day”). Those poems are very direct in their diction and rarely use metaphors. On the other hand, a few other poems in the book, similar to “Dare,” use more metaphors and don’t present their messages as clearly as the other poems. This increases the value of the whole book because it provides a mixture of styles in the short poems of slightly varying length that each carries its own strong message, adding to the overall motif of peace, equality and freedom for all people in America.

Work Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again” and other poems. New York:

Vintage Books, 2004.