Monday, April 01, 2013

National Poetry Month + Poem: Langston Hughes

It's National Poetry Month, and also one of the busiest in the year for me (giving exams, reading theses, etc.), but I am aiming to post poems regularly this month, if not every day, then at least several times per week, or at least more frequently than I do in any given month (though I do periodically post poems, including several of the last few weeks, I think.) As I did in each of the past few annual National Poetry Month posts, I also am going to pick a theme and try to stick with it. Last year I focused on poetry about poems, thinking about them, writing them, reflecting on them in and as poems, a fruitful theme that led to a wide array of poems. For some reason I thought this year about poems about the night, which sounds rather inappropriate as Spring is nearly upon us, but let's see if I can find 30 poems about the night--broadly construed--to post.

Let's begin with a poet I hold perhaps more highly than all others, whose work I've been reading since childhood (and once had to memorize), and teaching this spring. It and he never ceases to surprise me. By it I mean a deceptively simple poem, entitled "Dream Variation," and by he, I mean Langston Hughes, whose evocation of the night, whose darkness and beauty he analogizes to himself, is immediately evident. This is a poem he wrote for children, though it works too for adults (and I can imagine it being set to beautiful music, notated or improvised). Read it aloud and hear how he creates a whirling music, informed by the blues, that lifts the poem, like the poem's speaker who has been twirling till the night arrives, off the page, not unlike the dancing he also invokes in both of the poem's stanzas.  For some children, the affirmation in the poem's penultimate line would come as a lovely surprise--a needed one. To get closer to the spirit, through dance, and poetry, and thus to the natural world, the world behind the surfaces of the visible, to become a tree and simultaneously one's deeper, truer self--the poem suggests all of this and more. Enjoy, and if you get the opportunity, have a twirl!


To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me. 

Copyright © Langston Hughes, from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing. Volume 11. Edited and with an introduction by Dianne Johnson. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

1 comment:

  1. Night is such a wonderful theme! I taught Maureen Honey's Shadowed Dreams and so many women of the Harlem Renaissance turn to night as a space-time of possibility.