Summary

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This poem by Langston Hughes describes a trumpet player, a black man, who plays his trumpet but is always aware of the memory of "slave ships," which is a key part of his history.

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Hughes describes the "vibrant" hair of the trumpet player, which is now smoothed down against his head, in deference to the preferences of the white world. His "crown" is worn in a way which is different from how it would naturally be if slavery had not changed the lives of black people.

In the third stanza, Hughes describes the music produced by the black man's trumpet as "honey," its rhythm born from "old desire."

Hughes goes on to explicitly state that this desire is a "longing" for wide open spaces, such as the sea, the moon, and other unreachable things, where there would be space to move and to, presumably, be oneself.

The black man is described as having a jacket with a "fine one-button roll." He doesn't know what riff his music slips upon, but playing is "hypodermic needle / to his soul." This suggests that the act of playing music is soothing to him, even though he is otherwise extremely troubled, oppressed by the weight of history and his own suffering.

The poem has five stanzas of eight lines and one concluding stanza of four lines. There is some regularity to the meter, and there is use of rhyme, but the verse is, to a significant extent, free, although the shapes of the stanzas mirror each other.

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Themes