Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321
Langston Hughes's poem "Trumpet Player" offers some poignant observations on how the crimes that were visited upon the ancestors of black Americans remain part of them today—and how music can serve as a "hypodermic needle" to keep people going despite this.
Hughes never allows the reader to forget who the subject of this poem is or how he is viewed by the world around him. Repeated at the beginning of three separate stanzas are the lines
with the trumpet at his lips
which create an arresting visual image which is simultaneously a stereotypical image of a black man. The trumpet playing black man is defined by his race, as a "negro," and the association between black men and the trumpet is one familiar to white people. What white people are less likely to think of, however, is how the black man is feeling:
dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
where the smoldering memory
of slave ships
Blazed to the crack of whips
The weight of slavery, then, is heavy on the shoulders of black Americans, even today. While he may be producing music which is akin to "honey" in its sweetness, it can never be forgotten that black Americans are in a country to which they have been transplanted and where even their natural hair must be "tamed."
Accordingly, the trumpet player's music is driven by "longing." He longs for space, the moon, and the sea—places where he could be allowed greater freedom and would not be "tamed" by the society in which he finds himself.
Music, for him, is a sort of balm to a troubled soul, an inoculation against the suffering which is always going on around him. He uses his suffering to fuel his output, "distill[ing]" it into honey:
It's hypodermic needle
to his soul
as the tune comes from his throat
mellows to a golden note