Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

in poetry •  last year

“Who are you who mumbles in the dark?” .. we are the bloggers and other lost souls who can see that if America is ever to be great, it has to seek to fulfill its promise that has drawn millions but has hardly been achieved. On the contrary, we live in dark times, a supposedly Christian nation which has completely sold it soul for greed, the dreams of empire snorted like fumes by a criminal class who have become to believe they are gods. If we look at the Trumps who are ascendant on the Olympus of our political structure, we must look in the mirror and wonder what have we become. Martin Luther King Jr.'s great speech I Have a Dream has been swept under the carpet and although school segregation is apparently against the law of the land, economic disparity is its prime value grown out of a twisted Christian idea of prosperity and goodness. Because this is the great silent scream we are faced with today, in a world that has to be reminded that black lives matter: “we are so lost” - we are lost in a growing world of surveillance and control which enforces a toxic ideology of power over others and whoever has the fastest computer wins. We are lost in a Soviet style hall of mirrors where one day the president plants a tree to honor the friendship of the USA and France, and the next day the tree disappears, a prop in a propaganda theater that meant nothing more than the aggrandizement of the president himself. This is our greatest challenge today, that meaning is eroding from our lives. So on this labor day I found Langston Hughes' great poem “Let America Be America Again”. Its not about reclaiming any greatness, defined by sick white nationalists whose ethics are twisted beyond recognition, but rather to find our own greatness within ourselves in a brotherhood of man. Hughes' poetic voice evolves from the work of Walt Whitman, Paul Dunbar and others, a multiplicity of the possibilities of self, not a confined structured hierarchical definition from above, but one which is always in the act of becoming. If America is to be America and fulfill its promise, it must be a place where opportunity is there for all, not just the few, that there is a place at the table for all, not just the anointed ones.

langstonhughes.jpg
Let America Be America Again
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!

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