Poetry Friday Too: Extra Innings With Langston Hughes

(Poetry is song in meter.
How can I keep from singing?)

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes.
New inauguration poem? …I think not.

Poetry Friday: That Single January Shooting Star

“Success is counted sweetest,” Emily Dickinson says, “by those who ne’er succeed.”

I always assume she means that this is because the one who has not achieved success continues to struggle and strive, while the successful person relaxes into the lauds and laurels that are his due.

I guess that depends, really, on how one considers the nature of the success; if we consider a success for one person, then maybe they do relax and reflect on a job well done, and then the moment is over. However, if that success is a team effort, the satisfaction of the whole makes success doubly sweet as it echoes and reverberates between the most tepid members to the fervent and earnest.

Personal victories are extraordinary to watch, as gripping to hear as personal survival stories. Everyone has their “down in the valley” tale, which they may or may not ever share, but you can identify those moments when they have struggled to the mountaintop by their joy, despite the January chill.

in celebration of surviving

when senselessness has pounded you around on the ropes
and you’re getting too old to hold out for the future
no work and running out of money,
and then you make a try after something that you know you
    won’t get
and this long shot comes through on the stretch
in a photo finish of your heart’s trepidation
then for a while
even when the chill factor of these prairie winters puts it at
    fifty below
you’re warm and have that old feeling
of being a comer, though belated
in the crazy game of life

standing in the winter night
emptying the garbage and looking at the stars
you realize that although the odds are fantastically against you
when that single January shooting star
flung its wad in the maw of night
it was yours
and though the years are edged with crime and squalor
that second wind, or twenty-third
is coming strong
and for a time
perhaps a very short time
one lives as though in a golden envelope of light

“In Celebration of Surviving,” by Iowan poet Chuck Miller, from Northern Fields: New & Selected Poems, Coffee House Press, 1993.

Poetry Friday is hosted by librarian Ms. Mac at Check It Out.

Pssst. Have you taken the Comment Challenge? Mother Reader & Lee Wind have cooked up a challenge to the YA and children’s lit blogosphere to become a more cohesive community and support each other in blogging, thinking and writing for the next twenty-one days. That ties in all too nicely with my commitment to lift weights and start working on that running thing again (all your fault, Colleen), only the Comment Challenge will have prizes. Okay, theoretically lifting weights has prizes, too. But mostly not.

What has changed for writers, now that the President-elect is a writer? From Dr. Susan,

The universal appeal of his books may help move work by other writers of color from the “ethnic” or “black interest” bookstore ghettoes into the mainstream where they belong. (Next on the agenda: recognition that books by women and LGBT writers are also real literature. But that’s another, post-euphoria post.)

Read more here, and add your own thoughts in the comments.