To Us As Much As Anyone

By John Hertz:  In the United States, where I live, today is Juneteenth.

I saw this Langston Hughes poem on a bus placard.  It’s addressed to us as much as anyone.  You can find it in A. Rampersand ed., Collected Poems of Langston Hughes p. 546 (1994).

To You

To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now –
our problem world –
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered, free – help me!
All you, who are dreamers too,
Help me to make our world anew.
I reach out my hands to you.

Me too.

5 thoughts on “To Us As Much As Anyone

  1. That’s fantastic, thanks for sharing it. I need to read more Hughes (I hadn’t read that one before and now love it).

    I half suspect I shared this here before a year or more ago but as it’s one of my favorites and also fitting for Juneteenth I post it again. It’s also by Hughes and is called “Let America Be America Again.”

    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!

  2. I saw that one on the bus this afternoon, also. (Orange line, Sepulveda to Chatsworth.)

  3. @Shao Ping: The only problem I have with that poem is Hughes didn’t mention the women who also did that and suffered that. Everything else is perfect.

  4. @Shao Ping: That’s a great poem! It’s especially appropriate as people fight the old battle of “what we’re doing, this isn’t us/we’re doing it, aren’t we?” inside themselves and out. It’s not some corrupt compromise to say, We’re not better than this. But we can try to be. As Lili Loofbourow goes on to say, “Both are groping for a hook to hang a common moral imperative on. Both are trying to be ethical, to do good.” Which is a hell of a thing to fight over, isn’t it, when the world needs all the good it can get?

    Hughes was a huge talent. I thought I knew him, but I didn’t know the little poem John Hertz posted, which is still rolling around in my mind. It’s so opened-up. The ending reminds me of this little fragment of Keats found on the back of a manuscript he didn’t live to finish:

    This living hand, now warm and capable
    Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
    And in the icy silence of the tomb,
    So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
    That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
    So in my veins red life might stream again,
    And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
    I hold it towards you.

  5. Women didn’t do all those things!?

    This is somehow related to SF even from the same African-American author having a varying relationship to the canon of African American literature, but always staking a claim to the broad realm of the imagination for African Americans.

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