Poetic Spotlight: Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes, image care of Wikimedia Commons.

This week, we’re trying a little something new (with a little something old) here at the Waking Den. Every Thursday I’ll be doing my best to sift through my library (yes, I’m 22 and I would say I’ve got a good start on a library going) for some of the great works by classic poets – both known, and unknown – to bring before your eyes. Some will be personal favorites. Some will not. All will be here for your benefit, put forth, archived, and ready and waiting for any of your discussions of these immortalized poetic greats.

Today, we kick off the affair with something hardly “lightweight” in subject matter – Langston Hughes’s powerful “Let American Be America Again”. It packs a punch, as a forewarning, as well it should – it speaks to matters many would wish to forget, or to sweep under a rug and keep out of sight, at the least. It speaks of freedom and equality – critiques and hopes, longing–it rings out in a voice that echoes through the ages…and works as such are rarely gentle. Enjoy.

“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,
America!

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!”

Celebration of Langston Hughes & the New One Stop!

So I hope you’ve all heard the news – the indomitable One Stop Poetry, which you have all helped to grow to where it is today, has now moved itself across the virtual pond a touch. We’re off of blogger now and onto our own web site…but fear not; just because we moved doesn’t mean any loss to the quality we are committed to bringing you, or to the wonderful poetry you have all shared with us. One Shot Wednesdays and One Shoot Sundays, as well as our weekly One Stop Forms, Spotlights and Celebrations will go on unimpeded…and hopefully better than ever.

It’s interesting to look back sometimes. Just think, it wasn’t that long ago One Stop was just starting out, One Shot Wednesdays was the new thing on the block, a new meme for the creative to enjoy. We were a water cooler for the creative community.  Now, we’re bringing new content to the block every day of the week, with a staff of eight wonderful people all dedicated to the arts we so love. We’ve come a long way in a short period – hell, thanks to your support, we’re #3 in the official art rankings for the Shorty Awards (and actually #1 by vote totals) and #1 in poetry!

Langston Hughes

Kicking things off today is Pete Marshall with our latest Saturday Celebration…and who better to start off the new site with than Langston Hughes? Here’s a preview:

“Researching Saturday Celebrations often throw out a great surprise and none more so for me this week than that of Langston Hughes. Being from England, it is also exciting for me to learn of poets from overseas and Langston certainly was a good choice.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born the 1st of February 1902, in  Joplin, Missouri, to parents who were both of mixed race. His mother was a school teacher and came from a politically active family that supported Black Rights. Langston’s grand uncle, John Mercer Langston was the first African American to be elected to the United States Congress. His grandmother was married to Lewis Sheridan Leary, an activist that joined John Brown, and died, during the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. She later married Charles Henry Langston who also was an abolitionist and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society.”

For the rest of the article, and more quality One Stop articles, swing by the new One Stop Poetry. You won’t be disappointed. And don’t forget to stop in tomorrow to see my latest interview and photo prompt for One Shoot Sunday…this week I speak with Iquanyin Moon, and iPhoneographer with a modern look into the photography field.  Thanks to all of you that have helped us come this far! Your support is everything.