Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let America Be America Again

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!


In Rick Santorum's bid for the Republican nomination, he had used a line that echoed this poem as a campaign slogan. His slogan was "Fighting to make America America again."  The line was apparently removed, when Santorum, a well-known conservative, backed away from the phrase -- saying he had "nothing to do" with it -- after being told it derives from a poem by Langston Hughes. Apparently, using a phrase by one of America's greatest African-American (and probably most disturbing to Santorum) gay poets.

Hughes, who died in 1967, was an African American Communist who advocated for civil rights and social justice. A key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, evidence suggests that Hughes was gay; some of his poems were homoerotic and others defended gay rights.

Personally, I think Santorum and all politicians in America could learn from this poem.  Though the poem only alludes to the closet of homosexuality and the fight for equal right for the GLBT community.  If I were to add to this poem, it might look something like this:
I am the gay man, full of love and compassion,
Tangled in the rainbow of desire.
I am the American who begs for equality,
Who struggles each day in and out of the closet.
Where is the America for us?
Where is the America we were promised?
However, I am not much of a poet, so forgive me for the added stanza.

8 comments:

P said...

The only trouble with America is that it is full of Americans. A big wall should be built around it not to keep people out but to keep them in.

I have visited America many times and the people in the main are warm and welcoming so it is a mystery why they are such a pain in the ass when they travel.

It seems ludicrous to classify them as insular given the geography but that is exactly what they are and although there are many intelligent people in America the dumb ones have made stupidity an art form. Just a shame many of them turn out to be politicians.

Land of the free home of the brave? Just like the American Dream it is all American Pie in the sky.

Having said that, they are our prodigal sons and whilst I may chastise them I still have a great deal of affection for them.

Jesus loves America everyone else thinks you are assholes.

Jay M. said...

Wonder piece, with the added stanza.

I must take offense at P's assertion that Americans are a pain in the ass when they travel. I know when I've traveled to other countries, I take great pains to fit in, learn about the culture, and be the least offensive as I can be. I've certainly received smiles from publicans and border protection agents in several countries because I work so hard to follow the customs of their country - the same way I do here. And I know for sure that there are plenty of folks who visit the US from other countries that act like complete asses, so it goes both ways.

I won't disagree that are great inequalities in this country. But I swear I can't think of any other country I'd rather live in. Yes, the politicians can be stupid (and most are), but I've seen the governments of other countries, and they're not much better for many reasons.

Langston Hughes is a great poet, gay or not.

Peace <3
Jay

Dean said...

Great poem, and completely spot-on in today's economy. Your coda fits in just fine. Other than Longfellow, Whitman, Sandburg, Frost and Dickenson, I can't remember any other American poets ever discussed in our English classes.

I have to agree with the comment from P. I have traveled to and worked in several foreign countries, and was always embarassed by the behavior of my fellow Yanks. They seem to have no sensitivities for whatever other culture they find themselves in.

P said...

I'm sorry if my comment offended you Jay M it was largely tongue-in-cheek albeit true but I know some Americans have a problem grasping irony (sarcasm?) as a form of humour.

As stated I have visited America many times and the people are among the most welcoming and hospitable on Earth - in my experience.

To emphasise my point about them being a pain in the ass abroad though - in my experience - I will give you just one example of which I have many.

I was in NZ when I met a middle aged American couple on a tour bus of Auckland. The woman homed in on me straight away much to the relief of her hen-pecked other half.

She went on to show me photos by way of proof that the couple had been everywhere in NZ yet had only been in the country two weeks.
With a blatant disregard to the fact I might actually find the dialogue on the tour bus intercom interesting as it described the many wonderous sites we passed or stopped at on our whistle stop tour she then intimated all her physical ailments for the past 20 years.

It was as though she had a different doctor for every part of her body yet she seemed in good shape to me particularly her mouth.

Unfortunately I share that very British disease of grin and bear it. I nodded politely as she told me her dermatologist did this, her chiropodist did that, her proctologist did the other, etc. etc.

Now unlike the rest of the world I don't have a down on Americans but that doesn't mean I won't poke fun at them. America has greatly improved over the last 50 years or so and their reaction time is second to none when it comes to world strife.

After all we blew the bugle in 1939 and America didn't hear it until 1941 now the 'world police' are deployed to trouble spots post haste, the change is impressive :P

Jay M. said...

@P: I really didn't take offence as much as I wanted to point out that we're not all that way. And people from other countries can be as rude.

One day I was in a beautiful national park, getting lunch from a snack bar within the park, when a group of people who spoke French (that's all the labeling I can do) exited the snack bar and began to walk towards a couple of blankets others with them had laid out in a nice shady spot under some trees on a manicured green lawn overlooking the valleys to the east - and wrapped their food, deliberately dropping the wrappers on the ground as they walked, trashing this scenic area. In my rage, I refrained from saying anything. I just walked behind them, picked it all up, and quite pointedly stuffed into the clearly labeled "TRASH" can directly beside their chosen picnic spot. The look on their faces was priceless!

As to the American woman you encountered...I can take only so much rudeness, and will try to politely get whoever it is to stop. Barring that, I will raise my voice just enough to make some sarcastic remark; that usually shuts them up!

Peace <3
Jay

P said...

@Jay M
Was it Terrence and Philip?

As for trhe woman she wasn't being rude as such just insensitive. I would have preferred rude because then I would have reacted.

Jay M. said...

@P: were who Terrence and Phillip?
Jay

P said...

Flatulent Canadians from South Park