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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 274

"Trumpet Player" is a poem by Langston Hughes published in 1947. It is an exploration of African American identity through the character of a jazz trumpeter. The first stanza introduces the musician, who is depicted as weary, with the collective weight of his ancestors' history of enslavement ablaze in his eyes.

The second stanza observes his hair, "tamed" and gleaming; the implication is that society has demanded this taming, but, in complying with it, the man has turned his hair into a crown made of jet (a black gemstone). The trumpet player's regal nature cannot be hidden, only enhanced, despite a society that seeks to subjugate him.

The subject of the poem shifts to his music in the third stanza. The sound from his lips is "honey mixed with liquid fire" that is intrinsic to his soul; it is distilled from "old desire," which implies a rich history of music that is the legacy of those who came before him.

The fourth stanza speaks of the man's desire to commune with the moon and sea, vast elements of nature. Instead, the spotlight and the bar of the club where he plays constrain him.

The final two stanzas speak to the escape that playing offers to his soul; he is lost in the music, and "trouble mellows to a golden note." In other words, music transports the musician to a place where pain cannot reach him.

The poem offers a view of how art can provide solace to an artist with a troubled soul and how the legacy of slavery will be a lasting source of pain to African Americans and an undeniable aspect of identity.

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