I need help with Hughes' poem, "The City."  What is the structure?  Theme? Symbols?  Moral and historical context?   

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hughes' poem appears here:

In the morning the city

Spreads its wings

Making a song

In stone that sings.

In the evening the city

Goes to bed

Hanging lights

About its head.

The poem is structured in two stanzas with a regular rhyme scheme. Through imagery, Hughes develops the idea that the city is beautiful, both by day and by night. The beauty is expressed in the first four lines, ironically, through a nature image: The city is a bird, spreading its wings and singing. In the second stanza, the city is personified as a living being decorating itself with lights, another image of beauty.

The city becomes a symbol of beauty found  in an unexpected place in unexpected ways. One would not expect to find music in stone, but Huges does. Hughes was long associated with Harlem in New York City, identified as a major artist in the Harlem Renaissance movement. This poem could reflect his love for New York; it could address another city or cities in general. Hughes travelled a great deal during his life.