Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reader's Diary #95- Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (up to "Negro Dancers")


Like The Giver, Langston Hughes' collection The Dream Keeper and Other Poems is apparently marketed for young adults. And like The Giver, it can be appreciated by any age.

I picked up this book from a bargain table at a booksale, being only vaguely aware of Hughes as a black poet from the States. I've hardly been able to put it down since.

Hughes' poems are like nothing I've read in a very long time. They're so unpretentious and simple- yet not stupid. No wonder they are often taught to children. He's got all the wondrous elements of good poems (rhythm, occasional rhymes, figurative language and rich imagery) yet they aren't convoluted with references to Greek demigods, overly grandiose words like "ethereal gossamer", and don't go on for fifteen pages a piece.

Furthermore, they're optimistic. It's a little ironic (not to mention thought-provoking) that Hughes, with all of the obvious racial prejudice he must have faced in early 20th century America (apparently a closeted homosexual as well), could write such optimistic poems. Yet they're not naively so. Take the title poem, "The Dream Keeper". In it, Hughes acknowledges the "too rough fingers of the world" yet offers the reader comfort and solace. The irony is that Hughes could right poems like this, hopeful poems, yet there are still middleclass, white people today writing one bleak poem after another. I'm not negating that 21st century white people have depressing thoughts from time to time, nor am I implying that they aren't entitled to such feelings. But still, it's interesting that Hughes' poems could send off such an uplifting vibe. Even his blues poems, for the most part, take sadder topics and dress them in often whimsical rhymes or at least the feeling that there's a comfort being shared amongst those who can relate.

Occasionally there's a poem that has more somber themes. "Parisian Beggar Woman" definitely doesn't end on a happy note (i.e., "Nobody but death/ Will kiss you again."). But I guess even Hughes couldn't always be sunshine and lollipops. Then again, even with this particular poem Hughes doesn't ignore the brighter sides of life. For while it could be taken as a dirge or as a glum look at old age, there is the acknowledgement that the old woman had once been beautiful. It's as if Hughes wanted to at least give his character that much.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Well he kinda had the cards stacked against him, didn't he? And yet he resisted the urge to write 15-page epics. Yay!