Near the end of a distinguished career, Langston Hughes prepared his Selected Poems of Langston Hughes for publication, arranging them topically rather than chronologically. “Feet of Jesus” is the second set of poems in that book, a cluster of a dozen short poems representing various voices and expressions from the African American church. Other thematic groups in the collection include “Shadow of the Blues,” “Sea and Land,” and “Lament Over Love.”
Most of the “Feet of Jesus” poems had been published early in Hughes’s career. In fact, all but four of the twelve had been grouped previously as “Glory! Halleluiah!” in Hughes’s second volume, Fine Clothes to the Jew. In another volume of poems specifically intended for children, The Dream Keeper, and Other Poems (1932), Hughes created a section, “Feet o’ Jesus,” which included several of these same poems.
In Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, the first poem in the “Feet of Jesus” section is called “Feet o’ Jesus,” an eight-line lyric that was later set to music. The second poem is a nine-line “Prayer” asking, “Which way to go?” and “Which sin to bear?” Its tone communicates more resignation than expectation of answers. The third poem is a three-line “Shout,” typical of a shout that might be heard in African American worship. The fourth poem is “Fire,” expressing the lament of one who feels that, as a consequence of much sinning, “Fire gonna burn ma soul!”
“Sunday Morning Prophecy,” the fifth and longest of the twelve, was first published in The New Yorker (June 20, 1942). This poem begins with an epigraph: “An old Negro minister concludes his sermon in his loudest voice, having previously pointed out the sins of this world.” The lines that...
(The entire section is 752 words.)