The appeal of these poems is easily traced. For more than four decades, Langston Hughes was the most prominent literary figure in black America and one of the first to create a literary career. He was notable for the variety of his writing, which in-cluded essays, poetry, drama, fiction, histories, journalism, and compiled anthologies. Hughes also collaborated in dozens of translations of his works. A literary ambassador, he remained aware of what was important in the black world and was known across that world as its primary literary interpreter. Life in urban America, with Harlem as its poetic emblem, was his metier, captured in bold strokes and subtle nuances. Using Harlem as his imaginative base, he would wander far and wide to explore what interested him most—the people of black America in all of their infinite variety. No one caught so vividly their manners, their speech, their gestures, their spirit, their thoughts, and especially their dreams.
Most of the poems in this collection are short—eight lines or less. Several of the most effective—such as “Winter Moon,” “Sea Calm,” “Ennui,” “Suicide’s Note,” and “Seascape”—are among the shortest. All read well aloud, having taken shape in Hughes’s own public readings. All are conversational: most monologues, some dialogues, as “Brothers,” which opens “We’re related—you and I,/ You from the West Indies,/ I from Kentucky.” Such easy flow of speech convinces many readers that the poems, even though written during the first half of the twentieth century, are contemporary, speaking directly to today. The final and culminating poem in the collection, “Daybreak in Alabama,” opens “When I get to be a composer/ I’m gonna write me...
(The entire section is 427 words.)