Monday, November 12, 2007

Hughes' mixture of styles in “Let America Be America Again” and other poems

“Let America Be America Again” and other poems is a collection of poems written by Langston Hughes. These poems express Hughes’ idea of how America was supposed to be free for all, but then ended up only benefiting the white upper-class, while the foreigners and the poor suffered due to not having the same wealth. These poems voice the desire for an America that matches the expectations it upholds, a land of opportunity, a land that is free for everybody, etc. On the other hand, some of the poems call for peace between countries and desire less bloodshed to be spilled over war. Furthermore, due to the book being a collection, the poems aren’t all related and some don’t seem to do with freedom or peace at first read because of the greater use of metaphors. Nevertheless, these out-of-place poems increase the value of the book because they show that Hughes can present his ideas by writing very directly and simplistically and at the same time use only metaphors to prove his point.

The majority of the poems in the book call for an America that is free and provides better economic opportunities for people of all races. One poem that presents this theme clearly is the first poem in the book, “Let America Be America Again.” It describes what America was supposed to be – a land to be shared by all the colors that helped build it – and then shows America through the eyes of the lower-class whites, blacks, Native Americans, immigrants and contrasts it America in the eyes of the upper-class whites. For the upper-class whites, America is a land filled with poor people that can be put to work to help them gain more money. On the other hand, for the poorer population, America is the “same old stupid plan/of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak” (lines 23-4). This means that America doesn’t offer as many opportunities as were expected. The rhyming and short stanzas in this poem allow the reader to understand the force with which the narrator would read the poem.

The rhyme scheme and short stanzas in this poem help drive the assertive emotion in this poem. The rhyming helps emphasize words by strongly punctuating them instead of enjambing them: “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” (1-4). As can be seen in the lines provided, Hughes uses rhymes scheme and punctuation to emphasize “free” at the end of that stanza, strengthening the word that directly relates to the theme the poem encompasses. Another poem written in a plea for peace uses two longer stanzas, but still has the rhyme scheme and uses repetition for further emphasis of certain points.

Unlike “Let America Be America Again,” “Some Day” asks for peace and less blood spilled from war. This poem is separated into two stanzas: a narration and a hopeful look at the future. In the first stanza, the poem repeats the words “once more” in the first and third line in order to depict the endless cycle of evil that consumes our world: “Once more/ the guns roar./ Once more/ The call goes forth for men” (1-4). Due to man’s evil nature, people are always trying to kill each other, which leads to a world filled with war, “Again/ The war begins,/ Again/ False slogans become a bore” (5-8). “Again” is repeated in lines five and seven to show how endless violence leads to endless wars, supported by propaganda (the “false slogans” cited in line eight).

The second stanza brightens the mood of the poem in its last three lines, “Like flowers planted in the sun,/ We, too, can give forth blossoms,/ Shared by everyone” (23-5). In these lines, Hughes is telling the reader that even though the violence seems eternal now, some day we will have children that will love each other and live in peace (the “blossoms” that will be “shared by everyone”). Most of the poems in the book have to do with either the improper growth of America, or they deal with the idea of peace among all people. On the other hand, some poems seem like they don’t belong in the book because they don’t seem to fit in either of the categories referenced above due to their use of metaphors as opposed to directly describing their messages.

“Dare” is a poem that’s as short as its title. Its eight lines carry a message of struggling for equality; but the difference between “Dare” and the other poems cited is that the other poems want freedom for all people whereas “Dare” concentrates on black people only. This can be argued because of the imagery used in the poem. The poem starts out with “Let darkness/ Gather up its roses/ Cupping softness/ In the hand-” (1-4). Here, Hughes is telling black people, the “darkness,” to come together in love and in spirit. He then writes “Till the hard fist/ Of sunshine/ Dares the dark/ To stand” (5-8). With this, he’s telling blacks to congregate and create a strong community, “hard fist of sunshine,” that will rise against the injustices faced by blacks, “the dark.” The use of metaphors and less direct speech in this poem increases the value of the book because it shows that Hughes can write powerful poetry in different styles.

“Let America Be America” and other poems is a powerful book of short poems. The poems deal with issues of improper development of America and how it never became the land of opportunity and equality for all races, as it was supposed to be (similar to “Let America Be America”). Some poems take the issue further and criticize man on his obsession with war and hope for a day when all children will be able to love each other and treat each other equally (similar to “Some Day”). Those poems are very direct in their diction and rarely use metaphors. On the other hand, a few other poems in the book, similar to “Dare,” use more metaphors and don’t present their messages as clearly as the other poems. This increases the value of the whole book because it provides a mixture of styles in the short poems of slightly varying length that each carries its own strong message, adding to the overall motif of peace, equality and freedom for all people in America.

Work Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again” and other poems. New York:

Vintage Books, 2004.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What Is Love - 10/22/07

Similar to the origin of life, love is a very complex part of life that people say they experience, but can’t explain. This confusion is very visible in poems because poems sometimes try to explain love by relating it to images such as the sun and the color red. However, love isn’t actually understood for all people due to subjectivity. For example, in William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” he challenges the public’s exaggerated and unreal outlook on love by describing his mistress plainly, as opposed to exaggerating her features. Similarly, W.H. Auden questions today’s view on love by writing his poem based on its title, “Tell Me the Truth About Love,” in which the narrator tries to find out what love really is. This argument is based on the idea that love is a word used to describe a one’s strong affection towards another. Unfortunately, the extent of that feeling is so different for each person that it makes love very hard to define. And since it can’t be concretely defined, its own identity can be questioned. On the other hand, many use love to describe strong emotion connections, making the word very real and very significant to many people. The controversy concerning the existence of real love is important because it makes people question what they are really feeling, instead of blindly substituting their larger-than-life emotions for a small word.

W.H. Auden’s “Tell Me the Truth About Love” questions love and cites experiences the narrator has had with it. The poem is set up so that the second, fourth, sixth and seventh stanzas ask questions about love, while the other stanzas describe the narrator’s encounter with love.
The first, third, and fifth stanza describe how the narrator has encountered love. The first stanza shows words the narrator has heard other people use to describe words; the third stanza describes where he has found love in literature; and the fifth stanza names the places where the author looked for love. The word choice in these stanzas implies an immature tone and also hints that the narrator has no idea what love is. This is because he compares love to things people usually wouldn’t compare with love. For example, the narrator compares love to a little boy and a bird (lines 1-2). In the third stanza, the narrator explains how he’s seen love written on the back of railway-guides (23-4). Then, in the fifth stanza, the author explains how he couldn’t find love inside the summer-house (31-2) or underneath his bed (40). The unusual words he uses to describe his encounters with love make the narrator sound as if he’s a kid. This would make sense when implying that the author doesn’t understand love because it’s normal to believe that kids don’t understand it. The narrator’s confusion continues as he asks questions about love in the other stanzas.

It becomes evident that the author doesn’t know much about love in the second, fourth, sixth and seventh stanzas as he asks unusual questions about it. In the second stanza, he asks questions about love’s physical characteristics (such as its appearance, smell and feel). Instead of asking something cliché about love (such as if it’s as bright as the sun, feels like smooth velvet, and smells like honey) he asks if love “looks like a pair of pyjamas” (9), if it smells like llamas (11) and if it feels like a prickly hedge (13). The fourth stanza asks what love sounds like. Here, instead of asking if love sounds like a soft ballad, the narrator asks abnormal questions such as if it sounds like a hungry Alsatian and if booms like a military band (25-6). The sixth stanza asks what love can do to a person. The narrator asks if love can make a person greedy (45) and if it can make somebody make weird faces (41) instead of asking if love can make someone feel like everything in the world is okay. Lastly, in the last stanza, the narrator asks how he will know if love has arrived. He doesn’t refer to any goose bumps or butterflies in his stomach; as a substitute, he asks if it will be unexpected like him picking his nose (50) or if it will knock on the door in the morning (51). The unexpected words used in the questions the narrator has about love imply that he knows nothing about love. However, the author isn’t too ignorant. This is because at the end of each stanza described above, he asks the reader to tell him the truth about love, as if he had been told a lie about love. Or as if popular culture had distorted his view of love, or as if he questioned the idea of love even existing. In a similar way, in Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” the narrator challenges the public’s view of love and compares it to what he feels and sees in his mistress.

Most of the poems and song lyrics that I have read have made efforts at describing love by comparing it to objects that people usually find extraordinary or beautiful. Some of the objects compared to love are: the sun, the color red and roses. In “Sonnet 130,” William Shakespeare decides to write a poem that at first glance resembles a letter about the author’s distaste towards his mistress. The most noticeable part of his poem is how he takes characteristics usually related to love’s, such as appearance, sound and smell, and uses them to describe his distaste for his lover. He vilifies her appearance by contrasting her eyes with the sun and the red of her lips with red coral. He finishes by commenting on how he dislikes her breath, her smell and her manner of walking. The images Shakespeare chooses to contradict his mistress are essential in the controversy of the existence of love because, as he admits in the last two lines, he thinks he loves his mistress, but he doesn’t really know how to explain his love. However, in the last two lines, the narrator admits that he has a strong emotional connection with his mistress. The line breaks and structure of each line of the sonnet also help the reader point out the traditional aspects of love that confuse the narrator when he compares them to his mistress.

The structure of the lines in “Sonnet 130” help bring out the aspects of love that the narrator questions. For example, the first four lines aren’t enjambed and clearly express the features of his love that are contrasted by others’ view of love. His mistress’ “eyes” aren’t as bright as the “sun” (line 1), her “lips” aren’t as “red” as they should be (2), her “breasts” aren’t perfect and “white” as snow (3), and instead of being silky, her “hair” is ugly like “black wires” (4). As the poem continues, it is separated into couplets: the first line (which is sometimes enjambed) describes an aspect of the narrator’s mistress that he expects to be pleasant based on the public’s view of love, and the second line portrays the reality of that characteristic in his mistress. For example, in lines 7-8, the narrator contrasts the pleasant scent of perfume to his mistress’ disgusting breath that “reeks.” The use of this couplet structure within the sonnet helps the reader realize the author’s confusion. From the last two lines, it can be inferred that the narrator has a strong emotional connection with his mistress. That being said, according to what others compare to love, the aspect in the first line should apply to his mistress. Unfortunately, the reality of that aspect is presented in the second line, and love’s not as extraordinary as it seems. It’s not understood and, even thought the narrator has strong emotions for his mistress, he can’t necessarily say he loves her if he doesn’t even know what love is. He’s putting all his emotion in a word that will hopefully explain everything he feels.

The public’s view on love is questioned and challenged in Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” and Auden’s “Tell Me the Truth About Love.” The poems are similar in that the narrator doesn’t agree with what the public’s view of love. In Shakespeare’s poem, the narrator is a man who doesn’t believe that the unrealistic characteristics of love don’t apply to his mistress. Even though he has very strong feelings for her, he can’t apply the public’s view of love (which is supposed to be a word describing the highest level of affection towards another) to what he feels and sees in his mistress. On the other hand, the narrator in Auden’s poem is a child who doesn’t ignore the public’s view on love, but questions it. He questions the public’s take on love and desires to know the truth about love.

Both poems express the idea that love is different for everyone and that it isn’t clearly defined. Knowing this, ask yourself these questions: Is it possible to say that something exists if it can’t necessarily be defined clearly? Is it even possible to believe in that specific thing? Even if you say you feel it, how do you know if it’s really what you’re feeling when you don’t know what it is? Would you still agree with this way of thinking if the thing I was talking about was love? The truth is that love has evolved into too many identities to be defined as one thing for everyone. People have been so involved in defining every strong emotion they have that they forget to look back at the source of all that emotion. It would be a shame to ship away all the emotion you had for someone in a small four-letter word and expected it to mean something.

Works Cited

Auden, W.H. “Tell Me the Truth About Love.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed.

Ferguson, Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, and Stallworthy, Jon. New York and London:

W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 1470-1.

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 130.” The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed. Ferguson,

Margaret, Salter, Mary Jo, and Stallworthy, Jon. New York and London: W.W. Norton

& Company, Inc., 2005. 267-8.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Funeral Blues

This week, we started out by reading love poems. Reading the various poems assigned helped me to see the different types of love. At first, I just thought we would be reading poems with rhyming couplets about perfect love. However, to my surprise, the majority of the poems were imperfect in that they had sad endings.
Reading various love poems helped me to identify different types of love. The love I expected was portrayed in John Donne's "The Good-Morrow." The poem didn't have rhyming couplets and terrible forced rhythm like some pop songs today share, but it was a well-written poem that could've been a monologue. It was aimed directly at a lucky lady and the poem was filled of what I'll call happy love. However, some of the other poems portrayed different types of love.
By reading "Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden, I discovered love through death. I'm sure most can relate to this type of love. The love you feel when you lose someone who was already really close. This love is sad, it's angry, it's painful and it's confused, but it's still love. Similar to the love experienced through death is the love expressed in "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Ezra Pound.
In "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Ezra Pound, I discovered what I'll call love through loss. This love is the feeling you get when you miss someone who you really care about and would give anything to have her back. You can either be missing her because she has left for a long time and you don't know when she'll be back, or because she has passed away and you wish that she could be back (similar to Auden's poem).
After looking carefully at each of the poems, imperfect love started to make sense. This is because sadness, loss, death and pain are all real and they're common. It's rare for someone to find a spouse that he has loved and end up marrying her. If it does happen, it doesn't always end such a happy ending. This is because someone will leave (either by choice or because it's his time) and love will amplify the sadness that the survivor feels. I'll stop there with all my depressing words and ask you (whoever you may be) a question. What do you think about love? Is it better to find love and later feel pain of loss, or to be alone and safe from the pain that might come?
Have a nice day :)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

War Poems

Last Monday was a very good discussion day because we discussed war poems. This was very exciting because I had never read a war poem before, and the poems we read were also very good. My favorite poem from that day was "Here Dead Lie We Because We Did Not Choose" by A.E. Housman.
Out of the poems we read I only found "Here Dead We Lie Because We Did Not Choose" to show support towards fighting. The very short poem follows:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

When I read this poem for the first time, I merely skimmed over it to get a general idea of what it was about. The last two lines unexpectedly grabbed my attention and made me reread the poem a few times before putting it down.
When I read the poem, I imagined the end of a war movie with the son of a lost one standing over his father's grave, reading the words on his tombstone. The father is telling his son that they (he and his fellow soldiers) are dead because, instead of the complaining about how unfair their country is, they chose to have some pride in their country and fight for their country. This is because when you have something great and beautiful you believe in, your own life becomes a small concern. Your only desire is to reach that goal you were trying to pursue. However, the young usually think of their own lives as a great deal to worry about and always want to live for the moment. Nonetheless, these young men were so committed to their dream that they threw away living for the moment and instead lived for their country. They were young, but they were very brave.
This poem touched me a lot because, even though I don't support the idea of war, I greatly appreciate what soldiers do for our country. They put their lives at risk and throw away every bit of freedom that they have. For what reason? I don't know. Maybe it's to fight for their country, or it's a promise they made to their parents. For whatever reason they do it, they do it and they should be greatly appreciated by everyone.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Shaped Poetry

“Easter Wings” by George Herbert
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poor: 5
With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me. 10

My tender age in sorrow did begin;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became
Most thin. 15
With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day thy victory
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me. 20

Until last Friday, I didn’t know shaped poems existed. In class, we looked through different poems that bridged the gap between visual art and poetry. Sometimes shaped poetry is represented in words that resemble an object (for example, writing apple repeatedly and cutting some parts of the word out so that the main shape of the words is an apple). Other times, the meaning of the poem resembled the object directly, or in other words, it was mimetic.

George Herbet’s “Easter Wings” is very fascinating in that the poem has a pattern that resembles two birds taking flight. Originally, the two stanzas were printed on two pages and had a different arrangement that made the imagery more clear. Even so, without the original arrangement, the poem still presents the same idea.

I really like this poem because, as you read down each stanza, it’s as if you can envision a bird spreading its wings. This is because as you read the stanza and it becomes thinner, a saddening tone is given off. For example, in the second stanza in lines 13-15, the tone is expressed, “Thou didst so punish/ That I became/Most thin.” Then, all of a sudden, the poem starts to become fat again, like a bird spreading its wings. However, this time, the mood is uplifting: “With thee/Let me combine/And feel this day thy victory/For if I imp my wing on thine/Affliction shall advance the flight in me” (lines 16-20).

This poem was a very new experience for me and reading the poem gave me chills because it moved me as I was reading it. The first half of each stanza brought broke down my spirits. However, the second half of each stanza turned my mood around and filled me with a bit of happiness.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Iambic Pentameter

For a couple of days in class, we have been playing with iambic pentameter and seeing which poems can fit into that form. We were split into groups and given different tasks that all had to do with iambic pentameter. My group and I had the role of trying to fit Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” into iambic pentameter. Our results were quite surprising. We found that there were some lines here and there that fit. For example, the last five lines (31-35) matched iambic pentameter very well:

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

For those of you who don’t know what iambic pentameter is, it’s when you have about five pairs of iambs in each line. An iamb is a two-syllable word starting with an unstressed syllable and ending with a stressed syllable (for example, alone). Now that you know what iambic pentameter is, we can go back and split the poem:

and FAR inTO the NIGHT he CROONED that TUNE.

the STAIRS went OUT and SO did the MOON.

the SINGer stopped PLAYing and WENT to BED

while the Weary BLUES ECHoed through his HEAD.

he SLEPT like a ROCK on a MAN that’s DEAD.

As you can see, not all the lines have perfect iambic pentameter, but it’s still more or less the same pattern. I was so surprised when I saw how Hughes, either unintentionally or intentionally, used iambic pentameter. However, at the same time, he still stuck to the jazzy rhythm that “The Weary Blues” belongs to and simply applied a bit of old school structure to his free poem.

Monday, September 3, 2007

About Me

Hey readers. My name is Yves Gahimbare and I'm majoring in Human Biology, Health and Society at Cornell University in the College of Human Ecology. All this means is that I'm a pre-med bio major at Cornell. Even though there's a lot of work involved, I try to relax my mind and stay focused on my dream to go to medical school.
Unlike most of the students that go to Cornell, I'm from Ithaca (the city in which Cornell is located). Most people don't fancy the idea of going to college in the same town they went to college, but it doesn't bother me that much because when it isn't snowing, Ithaca's a great place to be.
The reason I enjoy living in Ithaca so much is because there is so much love for music here and there are always people playing music in parks and at "open mic" nights in cafes in collegetown. This is great for me because I love playing music and sometimes perform with my friends. I mainly play the guitar (preferably the acoustic guitar) and sing, but I can also play bass guitar and a little bit of piano. Some of my other hobbies include playing soccer and basketball with my friends.
Good writing is writing that has structure and purpose and is interesting to read at the same time. Good writing doesn't always have to have correct grammar, spelling and punctuation, but writing with a hidden message is always very interesting to read (i.e. poetry).
For my writing seminar, The Reading of Poetry with Theo Hummer, I had to write a paper about a line of poetry that stood out in its poem. I chose Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning" because it is a piece of literature with a lot of meaning despite its short length. The line I chose from the poem is "I was much further out than you thought/ and not waving but drowning" (lines 3-4) because this line allowed me to view the poem in a totally different way than I had the first few times I read it. I wish to improve my paper by making my transitions between paragraphs smoother and by making stellar introductions and conclusions so that my paper will sparkle.
While in this class, I really want to continue reading poetry and discussing it with my classmates. By doing this, I will be able to find out a lot more about myself and what I really think by expressing my thoughts out loud (and I will also be able to learn more about my classmates). However, most of all, I really just want to learn more about poetry. :)