Langston Hughes was engaged for much of his creative life in an effort to develop a uniquely African-American poetry, a genre of poetry in which the cultural experiences of a minority group could be presented, analyzed, felt, and conveyed. Many of Hughes' poems refer to this "Negro" experience, an experience that the poems reveal as inclusive of both rural roots and a new urban reality beginning in the 1920s. This essay will consider five of Hughes' poems with respect to their representation of this "Negro" ethos or voice.
One poem by Hughes (1717) is "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" in which the poet traces the evolution of the African-American people from the Euphrates to the Congo to Egypt and to the southern American states. Like the rivers of these regions, including the Congo, Nile, and Mississippi, Hughes (1717) writes "my soul has grown deep like the rivers." His, he says, are an ancient people like the rivers, "older than the flow of human blood in human veins" (1717).
The place of the "Negro" in American society is influenced by the Mississippi River and in "Refugee in America," Hughes (1721) writes "there are words like Liberty/That almost make me cry/if you had known what I knew/you would know why." In the United States, Hughes' (1724) thesis is that the ancient souls of the Negro people are permanent outsiders or refugees although they have not sought asylum but rather been forced to live as an oppressed people in the United States.
Perhaps no single poem by Hughes affirms this sense of isolation more than "Vagabonds." In this poem, Hughes (1720) writes that "we are the desperate/Who do not care/The hungry/ Who have nowhere/To eat/No place to sleep/The tearless/Who cannot/Weep." The Negros written about in this poem by Hughes (1720-1721) are alienated from their roots along the Euphrates, the Congo, and the Nile and left abandoned, homeless, and unwelcome refugees alongside the Mississippi where they...