illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Start Free Trial

What is the meaning of Langston Hughes' poem, Genius Child?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Of course, any work of poetry opens itself up to a number of different meanings, and it is very hard to pin down any one definitive explanation of such a diverse medium. However, here is my "take" on this excellent poem.

In this poem, Hughes seems to be talking about...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

the way that society treats the "genius child" with suspicion and fear. The way that the genius child is related and compared to an eagle or a monster suggests that there is something in the intelligence and capacity of a genius to change society that threatens society. This of course results in a real fear of the "genius child" and the way in which he is unloved. A genius child, through his talent and intelligence, threatens the status quo by offering the potential for change. The song of the genius child is "wild" and unpredictable, because change always involves a venture into the unknown. That is why the song must be sung gently, so that it does not "get out of hand":

This is a song for the genius child. 
Sing it softly, for the song is wild. 
Sing it softly as ever you can - 
Lest the song get out of hand.

The series of rhetorical questions seem to argue the danger that is implicit in a genius child, ultimately comparing such a child to a "monster / Of frightening name." The final, shocking line seems to present the attitude of society towards such genius children who offer so much hope and potential for meaningful change:

Kill him - and let his soul run wild.

Far better to extinguish such children and let the status quo remain, so that we can maintain control and predictability in an uncertain world. Obviously, Hughes does not believe this, rather he uses the poem to capture the attitude of society towards innovation and those that try to usher such changes in. Many, through their suspicion against new ideas, would commit violence to maintain stability.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the point of view in the poem "Genius Child" by Langston Hughes?

Point of view refers to the perspective from which the narrator tells the story or a speaker presents his thoughts in a poem. In this poem, Langston Hughes has adopted a first-person perspective. This means the speaker assumes a subjective stance and presents what he thinks of a particular situation, event, or idea.

In "Genius Child," Hughes' perception regarding the treatment of individuals who are seen as geniuses is that they are much maligned and even feared by society. He might be speaking about his own experiences and applies this to, what he believes, are the experiences of geniuses (especially in childhood) worldwide. This does not necessarily make his perspective true.

The speaker is clearly bitter and resentful about the manner in which society supposedly treats such children and shockingly suggests that the genius child should be killed because, in death, the child's soul can "run wild." The intimation is obvious. In life, such a child is restricted and not given the opportunity to exercise his or her genius. Since society cannot bear the open and free nature of such children, it purposely and forcefully binds them and hampers their development. Hughes feels death is the only thing that will free them from such bondage.

The poem clearly suggests that genius children are seen as a threat, for even the song, which the poem is, should be sung softly.

It is also evident that the speaker believes such children cannot be loved. He compares them to eagles and rhetorically asks if such a creature can be loved. It is significant that he chooses an eagle because they are seen as symbols of freedom, courage, and strength—admirable qualities—but he questions whether they can be loved. It is as if Hughes is mocking society's short-sighted attitude to child geniuses. Genius children possess all these qualities but are shunned, restricted, and ill-treated because society has an irrational fear of them. They are seen as monsters who generate fear at the mere mention of their names.

The repetition of the line "Nobody loves a genius child,"andits separation from the general text, emphasizes the speaker's sentiment that genius children are treated with disdain. The word 'nobody' powerfully suggests that such children are not even loved by their immediate families. This sentiment, more than anything else, indicates the poet's subjective perspective, as his claim definitely cannot be seen as a universal truth.

Last Updated on