Three Poems About America

I. Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again"

II. Claude McKay, "America"

III. Robinson Jeffers, "Shine, Perishing Republic"

IV. Further Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Let America Be America Again"

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,

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"America"

BY CLAUDE MCKAY

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate.

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Shine, Perishing Republic"

BY ROBINSON JEFFERS

 

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,

heavily thickening to empire,

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops

and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

 

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make

fruit, the fruit rots to make earth,

Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,

ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

 

You making haste haste on decay; not blameworthy; 

life is good, be it stubbornly long or suddenly

A mortal splendor; meteors are not needed less than

mountains; shine, perishing republic.

 

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance

from the thickening center; corruption

Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the

monster's feet there are left the mountains.

 

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man,

a clever servant, insufferable master.

There is a trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught

-- they say -- God, when he walked the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV. Further Reading

Philosophical Poems

William Cullen Bryant, Library Of World Poetry

Roy Cook, ed., One Hundred & One Famous Poems

John Ciardi, How Does A Poem Meaning?

Archibald MacLeish, Poetry And Experience

 

 

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