(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Culp, Mary Beth. “Religion in the Poetry of Langston Hughes.” Phylon 48 (1987): 240-245. Accessible through JSTOR, this article surveys Hughes’s religious themes with an emphasis on Hughes as African American folklorist in his use of Christ images, crucifixion imagery, and Christian themes.

De Santis, Christopher C., ed. Langston Hughes: A Documentary Volume. Vol. 315 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Columbia, S.C.: Thomson Gale, 2005. An extraordinarily rich reference work, filled with illustrations, photos, letters, facsimiles, and other archival treasures relating to the life and times of Langston Hughes, beautifully presented and explained.

Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea. 1940. Reprint. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. Hughes’s autobiography contains a chapter, “Salvation,” which describes his loss of faith as a youth after a revival meeting.

Ostrom, Hans. A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. Succinct entries on specific poems, persons, and topics by a leading Hughes scholar; meticulously researched and clearly annotated.

Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 1988. The definitive biography, distinctive for its graceful writing and vigorous understanding of Hughes’s significance to American literary history and culture.

Sanders, Leslie Catherine. “I’ve Wrestled with Them All My Life: Langston Hughes’s Tambourines to Glory.” Black American Literature Forum 25 (Spring, 1991): 63-72. Accessible through JSTOR in a special issue devoted to “The Black Church and the Black Theatre.” Describes Hughes’s lifelong interest in black gospel music and the creation of his musical, Tambourines to Glory (pr., pb. 1963).