Hughes and Cullen have differences that are very clear. They both have stylistic differences, Hughes writes in rhythm while Cullen writes in rhyme. Although they both write in different styles, they both have the same theme. Hughes and Cullen wrote their works during the Harlem Renaissance, which was a time where African Americans were trying to become accepted by the once white dominated society and they were trying to discover their heritage. African Americans faced many hardships and they wanted to be heard. The best way these two artists knew how to be heard was through their unique style of music and writing. They wanted to speak through poetry the pain they endured and speak about the fact that just because the color of their skin is different, it doesn’t make them any less human than anyone else. So, how do these poems of the Harlem Renaissance respond to historical contexts? In this paper I will be analyzing both poets and how their poems made an impact on African Americans.
Langston Hughes focuses more on rhythm than on rhyme, for example, the poem “The Weary Blues” reads like a blues song, which is what the poem is about. “Mother to Son” is a conversation a mother has to a child about what era life has been, and that no matter how hard life may seem, one should never give up climbing the “stairs”.The poem shows a combination of American culture and African heritage, it shifts in different forms of English. Hughes poems seem to focus more on being accepted into the American culture, than they do about accepted the African heritage of African Americans.
Cullen focuses his writing on the African heritage opposed to the African American. His use of rhyme instead of just rhythm makes his poems flow well with his images and views. In his poem “Heritage”, Cullen writes about how black people should embrace their culture and race and to remember everything they had gone through in history and what made them who they are today. He not only wanted them to embrace their heritage but he wanted them to show America that they are in fact Americans. There are also African Americans who will not accept the simple fact that all are Americans, and they will still separate white from black, as is seen from the poem “Uncle Jim”. ” “White folks is white,” says uncle Jim”, show to me that not all African Americans were ready for this new awakening and new point in history, that they were so set in their ways that there was no changing them.
Hughes and Cullen are very similar. Sure, each poem was written in different styles where Hughes had his “Musical and stanza structures” (Tracy) and Cullen’s had his rhyme with emotion, they both wrote about the same things, and seemed to preach the same message to everyone who would read their poems. As Americans everyone should embrace their culture and they shouldn’t shun anyone. There are always hardships and difficulties in accepting and representing your culture status in America but in the end it should be said loud and clear without feeling ashamed. Through reading both these artists I see how interesting it is to discover how two different authors from different lifestyles could write in such sync to one another. Hughes with his blues infused poems and Cullen’s with his “Negro spirit and Christian upbringing” (Ferguson), both of these men inspired hundreds of people and their work can still make an impact on those that read it.
Gary Edward Holcomb did extensive research in his essay called Langston Unashamed: Radical Mythmaking in Hughes’s 1930s Short Fiction. In this essay Holcomb focuses on Langston Hughes’s mid-1930s short fiction works, exploring ways in which these Black Marxist writings expose racism as a function of an absolutist US nationalist discourse. “The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was part of the New Negro Movement that swept the USA in the early twentieth century. Through fiction, poetry, essays, music, theatre, sculpture, painting and illustration, participants in this first Black arts movement produced work that was both grounded in modernity and an engagement with African-American history, folk culture and memory” (Holcomb). In 1951, Hughes published the poetry collection Montage of a. The book contained the poem “Harlem.” The poem’s powerful imagery and simple, haunting language was an anthem of Harlem’s simmering desires, anger, and tensions. It is best remembered for its opening lines: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ Like a raisin in the sun?”
The theme of one embracing their blackness can be seen in Langston Hughes poem “Negro,” in which he affirms his blackness and sense of humanity by establishing his cultural roots to Africa. Throughout the poem, Hughes compares the great contributions the Negro has made to the world with that of brutality that he has also endured. Though, there is a strong connection and homage paid to Africa. This greatness is also evident in “Black Majesty16” by Countee Cullen:
These men were kings, albeit they were black,
Christophe and Dessalines and L’Ouverture;
Their majesty has made me turn my back
Upon a plaint I once shaped to endure.
Davis contends that Cullen’s poetry viewed the Negro as an alien in America who has been taken out of his beautiful homeland of Africa to endure “insult, humiliation, and injustice.”(Jackson) As the sonnet continues Cullen details the image of the Negro in America. Yet, he contrasts this image with that of the kings in which the Negro was once King and can be again.
Dark gutter-snipe, black sprawler-in-the-mud,
A thing men did may do again.
What answer filters through your sluggish blood
To these dark ghosts who knew so bright a reign?
“Lo, I am dark, but comely, ” Sheba sings
“And we were black, ” three shades reply, “but
These poems highlight the importance of one embracing their blackness. The problem of being Black and American are highlighted in the poems of Hughes, Cullen and many others. In “America25” Hughes compares the struggles of Blacks and Jews in this country. The opening lines present the problem of being Black or Jewish in America and to be seen as an outcast.
Little dark baby,
Little Jew baby,
Cullen’ s “Incident”26 written like a nursery rhyme, shows how a child is impacted by racism when he was in Baltimore and called a “nigger” by a young White boy on the train.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and call me, “Nigger. “
The prosody in this poem by Cullen has a traditional pattern, simple language, and a regular beat; but it also addresses the problem of prejudice and racism from a child’s perspective. These poems deal with both factors of being an American and being Black.