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James Weldon Johnson's poem, "Sence You Went Away," deals with loss of love. Langston Hughes' "Little Old Letter" also deals with loss of love. However, each poem, as with individual people, deals with this loss in a different way.
Johnson's poem is a list of things that have changed since the object of the speaker's love has left. The stars and the sun in the heavens above have lost their brilliance and their power; the sky is not as blue, and the birds have forgotten how to sing. These images deal with how the loss has affected the speaker's view of the natural world.
Johnson's poem lists other things directly related to changes in the speaker's perceptions: nothing is going right, "you" are missing in everything, I don't know what I should do, and the days are never-ending.
Finally Johnson describes how the speaker is physically afflicted, and his loss is visible to the world: he sighs all the time, he gets choked up ("ma th'oat keeps gittin' dry"), and there is always a tear in his eye.
The reader gets a clear sense that the speaker in this poem is trying desperately to come to terms with his loss in a sad and quiet way.
However, Langston Hughes' poem has a much different tone.
Hughes writes about a "little old letter," an innocuous, seemingly harmless missive in the mailbox. There is no warning as to what is contained in that letter: it is only one page long; it is short, but in no way sweet...the speaker turns pale when he reads it.
There is nothing written on the back to soften the letter's "blow." And loneliness descends like death: the speaker says that he wishes he was dead.
He continues to explain that a "pen is mightier than the sword" (a quote by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1839, in Richelieu). Hughes writes that "just a pencil and paper...can take a person's life:" no gun or knife is necessary.
Hughes' poem denotes not just loss, but a wish for death.
Metaphorically speaking, Johnson's poem is like a shopping list of heartaches, whereas Hughes' poem has the effect of a suicide note.
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