The scrutiny and his struggles, to become
The Life and Works of Langston Hughes” In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone, I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan – Ain’t got nobody all in this world, Ain’t got nobody but ma self. I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ and put ma troubles on the shelf.
” The above excerpt is from Langston Hughes prize winning poem, “The Weary Blues.” Hughes, considered to be one of the world’s outstanding authors of the twentieth century (Ruley 148), is a prolific poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, autobiographer, and a writer a of children’s books (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). David Nicholson says of Hughes, “He strove to reflect an American reality ignored or distorted by other American writers (504).” The magnificent poet dealt with many struggles in his life and was criticized by many critics for the poem, “The Weary Blues”, as well as his other works.
The lyricist overcame this scrutiny and his struggles, to become a successful, talented writer. Langston Hughes, of French, Indian, and African decent, was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902 (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). His parents, Carrie and James Langston, were not apart of Hughes’ childhood. Carrie Langston was a small town debutante; she left her son with his grandmother to go live in Kansas City to pursue an acting career (Bloom, Bloom’s 11). As for his father, James Langston, a mixed, cold, man who detested blacks, ran off to Mexico (Bloom, Bloom’s 11).
Hughes loved his mother hopelessly and yearned to be with her (Rampersad 4) but his mother showed no interest to be with her son (Bloom, Bloom’s 12). On the contrary, he vigorously loathed his “runaway” father (Rampersad 4). Without parents, his maternal grandmother, Mary Langston, in Lawrence Kansas raised the writer of verse (Andrews, Foster, Harris 369). Mary’s first husband rode with John Brown on the attack of Harper’s Ferry in 1859 (Bloom, Bloom’s 11).
Her second husband recruited soldiers for the fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth Massachusetts regiment (Bloom, Bloom’s 11). Being married to two men who aided in ending slavery, Mary raised young Hughes on the stories of her family’s ancestors who fought to end slavery (Bloom, Bloom’s 11). From his grandmother he learned the need to struggle on behalf of the ideals of social justice and African American progress (Smith 367). The absence of his mother and aging grandmother made him unhappy and very lonesome (Smith 368). Arnold Rampersad states, “Hughes grew up a motherless and fatherless child who never forgot the hurts of his childhood (1).” Hughes childhood was a struggle with desolation from parental neglect (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368) and a constant struggle with being caught between the black and white worlds (Rampersad 3).
The “rhapsodist” was a exceedingly well educated man. While in high school, he read the poetry of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman (Bloom, Bloom’s 12). Sandburg was decisive in leading him toward free verse and a radically democratic, modernist aesthetic (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). Andrews states, “Hughes called Sandburg, his guiding star (368).” After graduating high school, eager to experience New York and especially Harlem, Hughes entered Colombia University in the fall of 1921 (Bloom, Bloom’s 12). However, his first encounter with college was unpleasant (Bloom, Bloom’s 12). Subsequently, he left his freshman year and became a merchant seamen in Europe and Africa (Rampersad 8).
Plagued with money problems, Hughes came back to the United States in 1924 and began to take his writhing seriously (Rampersad 8). In 1926, at the age of twenty-four, Hughes entered himself into Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (Rampersad 8). It was during that time he published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, which was grouped according to seven romantic ideas, and sixty-eight poems under seven headings (Bloom, Bloom’s 15). The volume earned him a place at the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloom, Bloom’s 12).In 1927, an old white woman, Charlotte Manson, became Hughes benefactor offering moral and material support for him (Rampersad 10).
“The Blues I’m Playing”, a short story, is thought to be written by Hughes because of the falling out he had with his white patron in 1930 (Smith 372). By the 1930’s he was a reasonably established witer; he wrote plays throughout the 1930’s but made little money and was living close to poverty (Smith372). In the early 1940’s Hughes wrote songs in support of the war effort and in a vain hope of a commercial hit (Smith 372).Throughout Hughes life he was “tormented” with loneliness and struggles. He died quietly alone in a hospital in Harlem on May 22,1967, never marrying or having no known man or woman lover, and not having any known children (Rampersad 5). Arnold Rampersad says of the poet, “Hughes will always be remembered as a prominent author who was born to struggle (8).”During the author’s lifetime he has published sixteen books of poetry, two novels, seven collections of short fiction, two autobiographies, four books of nonfiction, ten books for children, and more than twenty-five plays (Bloom, Bloom’s 13).
Valerie Smith states, “Hughes early poems captured sights and sounds of black worship (Glory!, Hallelujah!) (369).” Hughes has written many poems and short stories that impacted and defined him as a writer, for example, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, a poem that ties black history to the rivers of the world (Bloom, Major 950). Critics both white and black positively review the poem. (Bloom, Major 950). “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is acclaimed for Hughes’ passionate acceptance of his races, his embracing of heritage, and his reclaiming of black origins (Bloom, Major 950). “The acclaimed poem is thought to be a poem of his authentic voice”, states Harold Bloom in Major Black American Writers: Through the Harlem Renaissance on page 950. “It is thought that the poem was his first major literary response to the racism and segregation he personally encountered”, according to Valerie Smith (368).
In addition to “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, another one of Hughes major poems is, “The Negro Mother.” “The Negro Mother” was written to reach the masses of black people and for the purpose of black mothers calling to their children to take control of their future, to live with freedom and dignity (Bloom, Major 953). The poem is referred to as a heritage poem, highly lyrical, and employed both a regular rhyme scheme and meter (Bloom, Major 953). The intention of the poem is to be pleasant and easy to remember (Bloom, Major 953).
One critic says, “The poem shows how keenly he was in tune with his audience (Bloom, Major 953).” Writing poems is not all Hughes did, he also wrote short stories. The short story, “Home”, was about Roy Williams, a young black musician returning home from performing in Europe to his small Southern hometown and is lynched by white racists (Bloom, Major 947). “Home” is divided into six sections that contains many allusions of jazz and classical music (Bloom, Major 947).
Langston Hughes has written many works that affect peoples lives and how they live. “The Weary Blues” is a poem that is incorporated from rhythm, blues, and jazz. The poem is very descriptive and is an example of Hughes ability to mix music into poetry. Hughes constantly uses imagery to describe the piano player and the way he feels. For example, “By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light, He did a lazy sway, He did a lazy sway, He did a lazy sway.
” The poet uses the imagery device to describe where the piano player is and his mood as he listens to the “weary blues”. The tone throughout the poem is very sad and melancholy. For instance, Line 17 of the poem, “In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone.
” Also, alliteration was another device used by the lyrist. This was the case in Line 23, “Thump, thump, thump went his foot on the floor.” In summary of the poem, a man is listening to an old piano player sing the “boring” blues to dispel his unhappiness.Hughes critically acclaimed poem, “The Weary Blues” is criticized by many critics. Cheryl A. Wall says, ” He hoped for recognition as a fellow blues artist (Bloom, Bloom’s 36).
” According to Countee Cullen, “There is too much emphasis on strictly Negro themes in the poem (Bloom, Bloom’s 15). Countee Cullen also says, “The poem will be most admired because of its dissociation from the traditional poetry (Bloom, Bloom’s 18).” The verse is called everything from a masterpiece to a doggerel that blended jazz and poetry to expose the soul of the blues singer (Bloom, Major 951).
The rhyme is full of irony and urban imagery that was greeted by a large section of the Negro reading public with suspicion and shock when it first appeared in the middle twenties (Bloom, Bloom’s 21). Harold Bloom also mentions, “The Weary Blues” is a successful poem because of its boring sentence patterns with very little or no attention to syntax (Bloom, Bloom’s 30). Mr.
Bloom also says, “We feel his blues infected soul in the “sad raggy tune” squeezed out of the “poor” moaning piano. (Bloom, Bloom’s 31).” The critic, Filatova, states, “In “The Weary Blues”, Hughes almost ignores the question of racial oppression. When he acknowledges it, he fails to understand it from a class point of view (Bloom, Major 953).” In summary, many critics of many races and gender, e applaud and condemn the verse, “The Weary Blues.”Finally, “Carpers” also critique Hughes’ integral career. “Hughes was an American Negro artist who could escape the restrictions his own group of people would put on him”, sates Harold Bloom.
“Few people enjoyed being Negro as much as Langston Hughes, despite his bitterness with which he has occasionally indicated those who mistreated him because of his color (Bloom, Major 86)”, says Arna Bontemps. William Miles on Langston Hughes, “He writes to express those truths he felt needed expressing (Bloom, Major 89).” David Nicholson says of Hughes, “He strove to reflect an American reality ignored or distorted by other American writers.
He was a man of extraordinary tenacity and resilience (Hall 504).” “Basic vocabulary, simple rhyme, is what Hughes’ poems are made of and he developed a form of poetry which would allow him to compress a wide and complex range of images (Marowski 214)”, expressed Rolfe Humphries. In conclusion, critics have and will continue to have many things to say about the stellar poet.In the end, Langston Hughes, prevailed his endeavors to become a well remembered, distinguished poet and author. He is condemned by many critics for the verse “The Weary Blues” and as well as his career.
One critic states, “He was a dedicated spokesman for Negro people (Ruley 148).” “The Weary Blues” is intended for the urban culture. Incorporated with the talk, habit, and mood of his urban folk, the audience is evident. The lasting impact Langston Hughes had on society through the twenties to the sixties is still apparent today. Works Citied PageAndrews, Williams L. Ed.; Foster, Frances S.
Ed.; Harris, Tardien. Ed. The Oxford Companion to African American Literature: New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.Bloom, Harold. Ed.
Bloom’s Major Poets Langston Hughes. PA, Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.Bloom, Harold. Ed. Twentieth Century American Literature. Vloume 4.
New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.Hall, Sharon K. Ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism Yearbook 1986.
Volume 44. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1987.Marowski, Daniel G.
Ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Volume 35.
Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1985.Rampersad, Arnold. Ed. The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume 1: 1902-1941 I Too,Sing America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
, 1986.Ruley, Carolyn. Ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Volume1.
Detroit, Michigan: GaleResearch Company, 1973.Smith, Valerie. Ed. African American Writers.
Volume 1. New, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001.