A Poet’s Wishful Thinking and Our Horrid Reality : “Let America Be America Again”

Through the century there have been many great poets. These have been Ink masters that paint pictures of what reality should be, is, and is dreamt to be. Among these artists, we specifically commend Langston Hughes for his contributions to poetry. He was a visionary man with the ability to speak into our current reality, and yet be current to his own time period. Hughes comments on major issues in his poetry. Specifically in “Let America Be America Again”, Hughes begins to formulate and dissect his thoughts on the bare state of corruption.  Moreover, Hughes explores the blurred lines between “we” as a society and the “me” in society.

From the very opening of the poem, we are presented with the narrator’s internal conflict of what America was and what America was to him. In other words, the narrator begins to establish how society as a whole has overpowered his own voice which suggests that his personal identity was ignored and even lost. In many ways, the narrator has almost become a means to an end and only exists within this binary. This is evident when the narrator’s true opinion or voice is only observed in parenthesis. Using parenthesis minimizes the narrator’s voice, moreover it begins to echo Marxists beliefs.

The tone and meaning of the poem quickly establishes that the narrator is part of the inferior class. While it may be tempting for the audience to quickly assume that Hughes is blaming the superior, or what Marxists would call Bourgeoisie, of being tyrannical, by the end of the poem we discover that the narrator is the true tyrant. While the narrator clearly establishes that he is a part of society, he recognizes that to an extent his personal identity is nonexistent, but understands that his personal identity does exists within the binary. By the time we reach the 8th stanza, the narrator’s voice is no longer isolated with parenthesis, yet the narrator verbalizes the role he has taken:

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.

This is significant because the narrator’s complacency drives him to keep the “dog eat dog” system running. In this stanza, the narrator admits to his tyranny, and in the following stanza begins to explain his reasoning. Moreover, the narrator begins to explain how he, like the Bourgeoisie, is governed by the power of material and power. Yet, the narrator is unwilling to take responsibility of his complacency which is evident in the 13th stanza when the narrator presents a series of rhetorical questions. In Marxists theory, the peasantry class deflects their complacency by blaming the Bourgeoisie’s tyrannical rule. However, this binary can only exists if one group is filled with complacency while the other governs. Hughes echoes Marxists theory throughout the poem to unmask the root of disguised corruption which is often found in the blurred line between “we” as a society and the “me” in society.

We commend Hughes on his work because of the way he depicts a timeless picture of the same problem America still faces today, particularly in the upcoming 2016 political events.


Let America Be America Again – Poem 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!

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