Poetry Project Paper
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Langston Hughes is a well-known American author. All his works are full of a deep sense because they help to understand the spirit and life of African American population. Langston’s home is Joplin, Missouri. The writer was born here on February 1, 1902. Unfortunately, Hughes did not have an opportunity to grow up in a full family, because his parents did not live together. That is why a would-be writer was brought up by his mother and grandmother. Sometimes they got help from another family, who did not have children (the Reeds). Langston’s education started from public schools in Illinois and Kansas. Once, the boy was called class poet and this nickname encouraged Hughes to learn more about poetry. He even started writing short poems. The boy got an education among white students, and they frequently called him and Indian-looking young man. The majority of students respected this boy. He was rather responsible and even was in charge of student council.
After graduating from high school, Hughes spent some time with his father in Mexico. The latter did his best to change the boy’s point of view upon writing career. This did not prevent Hughes from writing prose and poems. They even were printed in the Brownie’s Book. Although these publications were done for children, Langston prepared for writing more serious texts. The verse entitled “A Negro Speaks of River” was printed in Crisis, and, in fact, it was the first serious poem created by Hughes (Leach 105).
When Hughes returned home, he entered Columbia University. At that time, he wrote several new poems that were also published by the Crisis. The poet disliked the spirit he found in Columbia and started working on a freighter. This work gave him an opportunity to see several countries and broaden his scope. Plus, he had time for writing. Hughes experimented much with the so-called “racial rhythms.” Such poems were published by African American magazines. One of Hughes’s poems (“The Weary Blues”) brought its author the first award in a literary competition. The writer’s activity attracted Carl Van Vechten’s attention. He was a critic and novelist who helped Hughes to publish the first volume of his poems. It was entitled “The Weary Blues” and appeared in 1926 (Bloom 214). It is necessary to stress that this publication helped the poet to demonstrate his talent and attract attention to his personality.
It should be noted that Langston Hughes touched upon such themes as the following: everyday life of African American population, patriotism, various racial themes, and democracy. The majority of works by this author were written in folklike style (Meltzer 98). Especially, this feature is seen in Langston’s second book entitled “Fine Clothes to the Jew.”
“Not without Laughter” is the first novel written by Hughes in 1930. This novel was rather popular among the public. That is why Langston decided to earn money by writing. A bit later, he started annual lecture tours. The author published five books about African-Americans. The list of his works also includes twenty plays, several translations, autobiographical writings and books for children. Langston Hughes got numerous awards for his works and died in 1967 in New York.
This poem appeared in 1951 and belongs to the collection of Hughes’s poetry entitled “Montage of a Dream Deferred”. This writing introduces the themes discussed by Langston Hughes in the majority of his works. The theme of “Harlem” is frustration experienced by black people. It turned out that the Civil War did not stop racial prejudices, and attitude towards black people did not change for the better, although they had got some new rights. Black population was allowed to vote, have some property, etc. Nevertheless, black people still were treated as the ones belonging to the second-class citizenship. They had no opportunity to attend good schools and get prestigious jobs. In some states, these people could not have a rest at the same restaurants as other nationalities. All these things led to the frustration among black people. They did not receive respect and opportunities they had been waiting for a long time. This mood of black Americans is shared with the readers in “Harlem”.
It is necessary to stress that all stylistic devices applied by the poet in the writing under consideration contribute to the theme of “Harlem”. It is impossible to define the meter of the text because it is different in each line. The poem is rather rhythmic, and it is not very difficult to guess why. The author resorted to the use of this meter to show the life of black people. They must be active to survive in severe conditions; they must be patient and flexible to oppose all racial prejudices existing in the country they live in. The length of the lines is different. Sometimes there are six, four, seven and even eight syllables in the line. This form to write a poem attracted attention to Langston Hughes because he was the innovator of this type of writing. No other poet tried writing this way; everyone liked traditional form of writing poems. Therefore, “Harlem” is one of the works that helped its author to gain popularity and recognition.
There are some other devices applied by Hughes to tell about black people. They are as the following: similes, anaphora, and alliteration. Below there is an example of alliteration:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up….
syrupy sweet (Hughes 109).
There are also three bright examples of similes. The first one can be found in the lines 2-4. Here, the poet compares dream to a fester. This comparison has a negative connotation and helps the reader to understand the idea rendered by the poet. He wants to show the pain of black people because of unrealized dreams about understanding and respect demonstrated by a white population. Two other similes are also connected with human dreams. Thus, the second comparison shows the connection between dreams and food (lines 6-8). It is my firm belief that the author resorts to the use of this simile in order to show the importance of a dream. It encourages people to live and enjoy everything they do. In other words, black people were deprived of being happy; they received no “daily food” because of constant offenses and unrealized expectations concerning their life. The third simile is placed in the lines 9-10. Here, the reader comes across another comparison of a dream. This time, it is compared to a heavy load. I think that here the poet applies this simile to show the difficulties black Americans faced after the Civil War. They could not understand unfair attitude towards them, and it is difficult to do something in order to change the situation for the better. Although black people were not slaves already, they felt no freedom because of racial prejudices.
The usage of anaphora in the writing under consideration may be analyzed with the help of these examples:
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet? (Hughes 109).
This device is also applied to stress black people’s frustration and their difficult life. The author sympathizes with black people and tries to attract attention to their fates by means of his poetry. At that time, no other poet had enough courage to do that.
It is my firm belief that the message of the poem under analysis is to show the importance of dream and its influence upon human life. Although “Harlem” was written long time ago, it is relevant to the contemporary readers as it inspires to live with some dream in a heart. However, it may be rather complicated to survive when society gives no opportunity to realize this dream. Nowadays people face difficult circumstances in life, such as crises and other economic problems that prevent them from living the way they want. This concerns black people as well, as they still live in the world filled with racial prejudices connected with their nationality. Although contemporary black people have much more freedom than at Hughes’s times, they still do not feel confident among whites. Numerous popular movies depicting black people as murderers or thieves prove this fact and show that something still should be done to change the situation for the better.