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

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“The City” by Langston Hughes is an eight-line long poem. It consists of two stanzas each containing four lines. Four-line stanzas are called "quatrains." The lines each contain two stressed syllables but the number of unstressed syllables varies from one to five. Thus the meter is dimeter but there is...

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“The City” by Langston Hughes is an eight-line long poem. It consists of two stanzas each containing four lines. Four-line stanzas are called "quatrains." The lines each contain two stressed syllables but the number of unstressed syllables varies from one to five. Thus the meter is dimeter but there is not really a dominant foot. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCB. In other words, in each stanza the second and fourth lines rhyme.

The poem is written in the third person. The narrative voice is impersonal. The reader is given no details about the narrator but instead the poem simply recounts a general impression of the city.

The diction of the poem is very simple with the majority of the words consisting of a single syllable and the rest containing two syllables. The style of the poem is simple and descriptive, resembling works of the Imagist movement.

The poem does not explicitly, within its text, have details about historical or moral context. If one looks outside the text to Hughes' biography, one will note that Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an African American writer who was considered a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. The city in question is not named in the poem, but Hughes wrote frequently about New York City in his other works. This seems a likely subject as the images of the city suggest a vibrant night life.

The poem uses simple metaphors, describing the city as having "wings" and singing. The city is personified, that is treated as though it has quasi-human characteristics.

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“The City” is a very short, simple poem of eight lines, divided into two equal stanzas. The rhyme scheme is abcb aded, and the grammatical parallelism of the two stanzas is further emphasized by the very close metrical repetition of seven, three, four and four syllables in the first quatrain, followed by seven, three, three and four in the second.

In the first stanza, the city is imagined as a bird, both spreading its wings and singing a song. Birdsong is clearly associated with morning, but the city’s song is a song in stone, a brilliantly evocative image, recalling Goethe’s description of architecture as “frozen music” and even Baudelaire’s sonnet on beauty, which begins with the image of a dream in stone. The alliteration and assonance in “song” and “stone” emphasize the connection between the two apparently contradictory words.

The paradoxes continue in the second stanza. The city is personified as one retiring to bed, but while a person who goes to bed extinguishes lights, the city hangs them above its head, remaining brightly lit until it spreads its wings the next morning. The metaphor, in each case, stresses the inclusiveness of the city. Hughes was a great traveler, but was particularly familiar with New York, where the multicultural atmosphere gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance, in which he played such a prominent part.

The symbols of the bird sheltering inhabitants beneath its wings, the song in stone, and the lights that shine throughout the night all contribute to the theme of the city as a welcoming and inclusive place, as well as a uniquely beautiful one.

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Hughes' poem is broken into two stanzas, each including rhyming. The first stanza describes the city in the morning time. The city is described as a bird, "spreading its wings and making a song." Hughes purposefully compares the city to an image found in nature. In doing so, he brings a new perspective to the city and shines light on its natural beauty. In the second stanza, the city is described as a night sky. Here, the city goes to bed and hangs lights over its head. The lights he is referencing are city lights, such as street lamps; however, his remarks make them comparable to stars.

Hughes was one of the primary artists of the Harlem Renaissance, a migration of African Americans to Northern cities in the early 20th century. These folks were fleeing Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South. Harlem, New York City became known for its African American culture. Hughes was known as an artist from Harlem and wrote often of his love for the city. This poem exemplifies the beauty he saw in everyday city life.

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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.

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