‘Let American Be America Again’ a poem by Langston Hughes

We spend a lot of time considering the values of our workplace and how they mesh with our priorities; who we will become as part of a workplace community. But where we go to work is located in the broader context of a national set of values. And those values have been the topic of conversation this political season, with some questioning the basic tenets that have, until now, defined our national conscience.

It sometimes seems like we have lost our collective sense of the core values that bind us as humans, Americans and global citizens.

Take a moment today to restore our ‘moral memory’ and revisit history through the lens of American poet, Langston Hughes. The Friday Poem this week is ‘Let America Be America Again’ written in 1935 and published in Esquire Magazine in 1936.

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!

Langston Hughes  ‘The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes’  1995

‘Poet’s work’ a poem by Lorine Niedecker

Do you remember the first bit of career advice you received from a grown-up? Poet Lorine Niedecker captured the advice given to her and her subsequent career choice in ‘Poet’s Work’ this week’s Friday Poem. “She is admired for the subtlety of her tightly crafted, nuanced and deliciously ironic poems, as well as for her total devotion to her calling.”

The biographical summary on the Poetry Foundation site describes the work of this twentieth century rural Wisconsin poet.

“Niedecker’s verse is praised for its stark, vivid imagery, subtle rhythms, and spare language…Concerned with the distillation of images and thoughts into concise expression, Niedecker described her work as a “condensery,” and several critics have compared her poetry to the delicate yet concrete verse of Chinese and Japanese writers. Although Niedecker’s long correspondence with Louis Zukofsky, who frequently submitted her poems to the journal, Origin, and contact with such respected writers as Cid Corman and Basil Bunting, brought her some critical notice, her work was generally overlooked until late in her life. Since her death in 1970, several critics have identified Niedecker as a significant and original voice in contemporary American poetry.”

Poet’s work

Grandfather
advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoff
from this
condensery

A complete collection of her work was published by The University of California Press in 2004.

‘Summer Wind’ a poem by William Cullen Bryant

If you are in midtown Manhattan on a summer afternoon you may want to take a break from work in Bryant Park. The park’s namesake is honored in a bronze memorial sculpted by Herbert Adams. From his pedestal on the rear terrace of the New York Public Library William Cullen Bryant presides over generations of fellow New Yorkers.

Bryant arrived in New York in 1826 to become assistant editor of the New York Evening Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton. He his tenure with the paper would last five decades. He became one of America’s most popular poets, a civic leader and led the effort to create Central Park.

“No line of his poetry survives in the consciousness of his nation, and none of his editorial pronouncements still resonates from his five decades with the New-York Evening Post, yet William Cullen Bryant stood among the most celebrated figures in the frieze of nineteenth-century America. The fame he won as a poet while in his youth remained with him as he entered his eighties; only Longfellow and Emerson were his rivals in popularity over the course of his life.” (Poetry Foundation)

His memorial was dedicated in 1911, coinciding with completion of construction on the library.

bryant

The Friday poem this week is ‘Summer Wind’ by William Cullen Bryant.

The poem was one of a series of 23 he submitted for publication in the Literary Gazette in 1824 while he was practicing law in Massachusetts. The image created by his verse recalls his memory of the landscape in the Berkshires.

Take a seat on one of those less than comfortable folding green chairs in Bryant Park and enjoy the Friday poem.

Summer Wind

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

William Cullen Bryant  1824