The poems of Langston Hughes’s Selected Poems of Langston Hughes were gathered by the poet from several of his earlier collections, including: The Weary Blues (1926), Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), Dear Lovely Death (1931), Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), Fields of Wonder (1947), One Way Ticket (1949), and Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). Representative of the body of Hughes’s poetry, the collection includes his best poems: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “The Weary Blues,” “Song for a Dark Girl,” “Sylvester’s Dying Bed,” “I, Too,” “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” and “Refugee in America.”
Hughes’s poetry is an exploration of black identity, not only the sorrows and tribulations faced by black Americans but also the warm joy and humor of Hughes’s people. He writes in “Negro”: “I am a Negro:/ Black as the night is black,/ Black like the depths of my Africa.” This is a resolute proclamation confronting racial adversity: “The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo./ They lynch me still in Mississippi.” Hughes refuses, however, to allow his poetry to become a podium for anger; rather, he offers readers portraits of the black experience and, consequently, draws his readers into a nearer understanding of black identity.
One of the strongest of Hughes’s poems is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The poem muses upon what rivers mean to black culture and how the rivers symbolize the strength and longevity of a proud race:
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
The beauty of the poem, which reads like a hymn or spiritual, is unmistakable and permanent.
Elsewhere, Hughes experiments with blues rhythms and jazz improvisations, as in “The Weary Blues”:
In a deep song voice with a melancholy toneI heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan— “Ain’t got nobody in all this world,Ain’t got nobody but ma self. I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ And put ma troubles on the shelf.”Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor. He...
(The entire section is 574 words.)