Poetry Sunday: Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

There is only one poem that speaks for the events of these past two weeks. It is by the great African-American poet Langston Hughes. He wrote it in 1935. It might have been written yesterday. I've featured his poem here before, but it has never been more apt than it is now.

Read his words, Americans, and take them to heart. They are words already written on the hearts of the thousands upon thousands of peaceful protestors of many races and creeds who have taken to the streets in recent days to demand an end to police brutality, to say the names of and demand justice for those murdered by the police and police wannabes. They make me proud and give me hope that maybe this time things really will be different.

Most of all, they give me hope that...
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!
Let us change that "must redeem" to "will redeem" and let us finally make the America promised by the ideals stated in our founding documents. 

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes - 1902-1967

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!

Comments

  1. Powerful words indeed, Dorothy. I must send this to my daughter who has been deeply troubled with injustice of late, and has been trying to do her part. You do have a way of capturing the moment with emotive content, and we all benefit greatly from your erudition and your conscience. It is both a pleasure and a privilege to follow your blog, Dorothy.

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  2. These poems are perfect, but it is also devastating and infuriating that not only were they timely when they were written, but they still apply today. As protests continue and will be going into their third week now, I am hopeful that real change will come. It has started, and I really think this time it will be bigger, and that change will last. People are so tired of not being listened to and this time, those in power have not choice but to listen. We are bigger and louder than ever before.

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    Replies
    1. I am very heartened by the sustained protests and the size of them, and not just in this country but right around the world. It feels like a dam has finally broken and maybe real change is possible.

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  3. I am truly amazed at how long the protests have continued, at how it is happening around the world. Change is always possible, hope is always vital.

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    Replies
    1. Hope sustains us through the horrors of the present.

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  4. Thank you, Dorothy, for your timely wisdom.

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  5. This is amazing, thanks, I have not read this work before!

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