Poems written by Langston Hughes captured the essence of the African-American experience in the early part of the 20th century. As one of the most prominent black poets in America, Hughes highlighted black humor, love, pride, hardships, struggles and racial issues. He was known as the bard of Harlem, and was an influential figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
"Let America be America Again"
This powerful piece dares to pull back the mantle of the perceived American dream and reveal that while it stands for freedom and equality, there are many people who don't live that life. From poor whites to Native Americans to African Americans, the inequality is as much a part of the fabric of the nation as the claims to freedom.
"Night Funeral in Harlem"
This poem focuses on a speaker observing a funeral for a poor Harlem man and notes how the community pulls together to give him the basics needed for burial. Hughes subtly notes that it isn't the material things that make the funeral grand, but the sorrow, love and sense of community that send him off properly.
"Mother to Son"
The speaker is a mother giving advice to her son about how her life has been full of challenges, likening it to climbing up stairs. She provides hope and determination as he sets out to ascend his own "stairs."
Perhaps one of Hughes' most famous poems, the analogy of ambition and hope cut off from nourishment, uses descriptive language and imagery to highlight the concept.
"Negro Speaks of Rivers"
Written when Hughes was just 19, this poem taps into ancestral memories and pulls together various locations where blacks thrived, all commonly connected by rivers. African heritage was important to Hughes and he captured that ancestral pride in this famous poem.
"The Negro Mother"
Hughes used a similar ancestral character of the Negro mother spanning the history of his people to reflect on the trials and challenges of African American women. However, Hughes credits women for carrying and nurturing the torch of hope for a better life and for the inspiration for their proverbial dark children to achieve.