Compare and contrast the two poem's images in: "Love Medicine," by Louise Erdrich, and "Theme for English B," by Langston Hughes.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The images Louise Erdrich provides in her poem, "Love Medicine," are very different than those in Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B."

The imagery used in each poem has an enormous bearing on the poem's mood.

"Love Medicine" is a story of separation for the characters described. Some of the imagery is truly "authentic:" describing images that explode in a crystal vision with the words Erdrich uses. Additionally, there is violence described in the poem, and the imagery is extremely powerful.

Erdrich's gift for effectively using imagery can be seen with this example:

The pickups sizzle beneath the blue neon

bug traps of the dairy bar.


He wears a long rut in the fog.

And again... the crest of the flood,

when the pilings are jarred from their sockets

and pitch into the current...


The white-violet bulbs of the streetlamps

are seething with insects,

and the trees lean down aching and empty.

Erdrich also captures our minds with imagery that relates to the violence that takes place in the poem.

...she steps against the fistwork of a man...

...and his boot plants its grin

among the arches of her face.


I find her in a burnt-over ditch, in a field

that is gagging on rain.

It is amazing that the word "love" can be found in the poem's title, except that it speaks of the speaker's love, and hope for healing, for her injured sister, Theresa.

Langston Hughes' poem "Theme for English B" also deals with the idea of separation (or alienation), but his imagery runs deep like undercurrents during a riptide: they are quietly powerful.

On the surface, Hughes' use of imagery seems almost casual. For example:

...I like a pipe for a Christmas present...


I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like 
the same things other folks like who are other races.

Hughes speaks directly to one of the poem's main points, using imagery that puts "white" and "American" out there with "I am a part of you:"

You are white--- 
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. 
That's American.

Hughes addresses a dominant idea that was as much a part of his life experience as breathing:

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!

This last piece of imagery provides clarity in what Hughes is not: and perhaps there is acknowledgement, sadness, and even longing...?—

...although you're older---and white--- 
and somewhat more free.

Whereas Erdrich's imagery is energized and sometimes painful to read, Hughes uses imagery that creates more of a hum, something lying just beneath the surface of his poetry.

For both of these authors, the use of imagery sets the mood for the reader, and helps us to be present with the characters in each poem to better understand the poem's message to the reader.

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