Literature and Composition II
Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan
Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan are two poets from different eras in modern American poetry. Although Bob Dylan is more characterized as a songwriter, I see much of his work as poetry. In this essay, I will discuss Hughes poem Harlem 1 and Dylans Times They Are A-Changin as commentaries on are culture, but from different backgrounds.
Both poets use social protest to make their points. Langston is talking of times that were not particularly good in any way for African Americans. In the poem Harlem 1, he speaks of a time when black people were considered lower than the average American citizen. He remembers how they were not accepted when he was younger; and for him and his race, he feels things havent changed; and even if they had, how could the past be forgotten or forgiven?
Sure, we remember.
Now when the man at the corner store
Says sugars gone up another two cents.
And bread one,
And theres a new tax on cigarettes-
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And cant have now
Because were colored. (768)
In this verse of the poem he is talking about how African Americans have viewed the world from Harlem and live and unjust life, how can they forget that.
Bob Dylan speaks of social protest throughout his poem. He is proclaiming to the world that we shall all come together and forget the past for a united future. He is saying that everything that has been normal is about to change.
Come gather round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
Youll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin
Then you better start swimmin
Or youll sink like a stone
For the times they are a chagin. (711)
A difference in the two poets definitely comes into play when we look at of the speakers in these poems. Hughes persona is that of a black male looking back on how the black race was treated badly, but he is expressing the beauty in their struggle. Hughes talks about why black Americans should achieve their goals, On the Cultural Achievements of African Americans
There is so much richness in Negro humor, so much beauty in black dreams, so much dignity in our struggle, and so much universality in our problems, in us-in each living human being of color-that I do not understand the tendency today that some American Negro artists have of seeking to run away from themselves, of running away from us, of being afraid to sing our own songs, paint our own pictures, write about our selves-when it is our music that has given America is greatest music out humor that has enriched its entertainment media for the past 100 years, out rhythm that has guided its dancing feet From plantation days to the CharlestonYet there are some of us who say, Why write about Negroes? Why not just a writer? And why not-if no one wants to be just a writer? Negroes in a free world should be whatever each wants to be-even if it means being just a writer (Hughes, 773)
On the other hand, Dylans young white male speaker states that the youth of America is changing socially and warning adults to join in or get out of the way.
Come mother and father
Throughout the land
And dont criticize
What you cant understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your demand
Your old is
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a changin (711)
The speaker has a strong sense of unity for the human race to move ahead in the world. Ginsberg stated about this album, Now hes going deeper into an exploration of American roots, which is interesting particularly for one who hasnt been doing that (3). He was saying that in that point of Dylans life he has taken more of an attention to country pride.
Both poems are told from the first person point of view, and speak of personal feelings, yet Dylan uses rhyme, and Hughes uses free verse. Perhaps, Dylan rhymes for the sole purpose of melody.
The biggest difference that I see between these two poets is the time eras and their ages. For Hughes it was the year 1949 when he wrote this poem at the age of 47. He was old enough to make a safe judgement call that not much more could improve for his race in his own lifetime, and if it did, it could not change the fact that for most of his life he couldnt feel equal to the white race. Dylan was 29 when he wrote his poem in 1979. When you compare 1949 to 1979, incredible differences and obstacles have been hurdled. In 1979, black Americans were equal, not separate but equal.
I think Hughes might have taken the same view as Dylan if he were alive then. Also Dylan, at 29 and having his life not even half over, gave him more of a hopeful view on how America and Americans could become. Hughes was looking for more of a revenge on how his race was treated.
So we stand here
On the edge of hell
And look out on the world
What are we gonna do
In the face of what
We remember. (768)
In conclusion these poets have both proved to be dedicated to changing our society, but in opposite ways. Hughes takes the angry resentful view and Dylan takes the reconstructing positive one. The individual styles work for these remarkable artists.
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