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Langston Hughes (1902-1967) 

Background, poems, and audio files of poems by Langston Hughes

Mother to Son

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me aint't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor-
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now-
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes
Song for a Dark Girl

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
They hung my dark young lover
To a cross roads tree.

\Way Down South in Dixie
(Bruised body high in air)
I asked the white Lord Jesus
What was the use of prayer.

Way Down South in Dixie
(Break the heart of me)
Love is a naked shadow
On a gnarled and naked tree.

Esthete In Harlem 
That in this nigger place 
I should meet life face to face; 
When, for years, I had been seeking 
Life in places gentler-speaking, 
Until I came to this vile streeet 
And found Life stepping on my feet! 

Dinner Guest: Me 
I know I am 
The Negro Problem 
Being wined and dined, 
Answering the usual questions 
That come to white mind 
Which seeks demurely 
To probe in polite way 
The why and wherewithal 

Of darkness U.S.A.
Wondering how things got this way 
in current democratic night, 
Murmuring gently 
Over fraises du bois, 
"I'm so ashamed of being white." 

The lobster is delicious, 
The wine divine, 
And center of attention 
At the damask table, mine. 
To be a Problem on 
Park Avenue at eight 
Is not so bad 
Solutions to the Problem, 
Of course, wait. 

Cultural Exchange 
In the Quarter of the Negroes 
Where the doors are doors of paper 
Dust of dingy atoms 
Blows a scratchy sound. 
Amorphous jack-o'-lanterns caper 
And the wind won't wait for midnight 
For fun to blow doors down. 

By the river and the railroad 
With fluid far-off going 
Boundaries bind unbinding 
A whirl of whistles blowing. 
No trains or steamboats going- 
Yet Leontyne's unpacking. 

In the Quarter of the Negroes 
Where the doorknob lets in Lieder 
More than German ever bore, 
her yesterday past grandpa- 
Not of her own doing- 
In a pot of collard greens 
Is gently stewing. 

Pushcarts fold and unfold 
In a supermarket sea. 
And we better find out, mama, 
Where is the colored laundromat 
Since we moved up to Mount Vernon. 

In the pot behind the paper doors 
On the old iron stove what's cooking? 
What's smelling, Leontyne? 
Lieder, lovely lieder 
And a leaf of collard green. 
Lovely Lieder, Leontyne. 

You know, right at Christmas 
They asked me if my blackness, 
Would it rub off? 
I said, Ask your mama. 

That Justice is a blind goddess 
Is a thing to which we black are wise: 
Her bandage hides two festering sores 
That once perhaps were eyes. 

American Heartbreak 
I am the American heartbreak- 
The rock on which Freedom 
Stumped its toe- 
The great mistake 
That Jamestown made 
Long ago.

Helene Johnson

Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem

You are disdainful and magnificent-
Your perfect body and your pompous gait,
Your dark eyes flashing solemnly with hate,
Small wonder that you are incompetent
To imitate those whom you so despise-
Your shoulders towering high above the throng,
Your head thrown back in rich, barbaric song,
Palm trees and mangoes stretched before your eyes.
Let others toil and sweat for labor's sake
Let others toil and sweat for labor's sake
And wring from grasping hands their need of gold.
Why urge ahead your supercilious feet?
Scorn will efface each footprint that you make.
I love your laughter arrogant and bold.
You are too splendid for this city street.

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