10 Most Famous Poems by Langston Hughes


Active in the twentieth century, James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was an African American writer most renowned for his poetry and for being the leading figure of the movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes was one of the early innovators of the genre of poetry known as Jazz Poetry, which demonstrates jazz like rhythms. Many of his poems are based on African American culture and blacks being denied the American dream of equal opportunity for all. Know about the poetry of Langston Hughes by studying the analysis of his 10 most famous poems.


#10 As I Grew Older

Published: 1925


It was a long time ago.

I have almost forgotten my dream.

But it was there then,

In front of me,

Bright like a sun—

My dream.

And then the wall rose,

Rose slowly,


Between me and my dream.

This poem starts by describing how once the speaker had a dream but with time a wall arose between him and his dream, plunging him into darkness and away from his dream. In the second part of the poem the speaker expresses his impulse to use his ‘dark hands’ to break the wall and shatter the darkness; and ‘To break this shadow into a thousand lights of sun’. ‘As I Grew Older’ talks about the American dream of equality, rights and opportunities which was dreamed by all Americans but denied to African Americans. It expresses their frustration, their agitation and their want for action.

#9 Dreams

Published: 1932


Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

This poem describes beautifully the importance of dreams and what one’s life would be without them. There is no set form or meter in the poem perhaps to shape it like a dream. Hughes uses the imagery of a broken winged bird that is unable to fly to indicate hopelessness and loss of freedom with the death of dreams. He then compares the loss of dreams to a barren field frozen with snow implying the loss of life without the presence of dreams.

#8 Theme for English B

Published: 1951


As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

In this poem, a white English teacher asks his students to write a page. The speaker is the only African American student in the class and is twenty two years old. He wonders whether it is as simple for him to write a page from his heart as he has been instructed to do. In the first half of the poem the speaker describes how he is different from his white classmates. But then he says that just because of his color it is not necessary for him to not like the same things as people of other races do. In one of the most famous lines of the poem the speaker wonders, “So will my page be colored that I write?” He concludes by declaring that both he and his teacher can learn from each other perhaps suggesting that white and colored Americans can learn from each other.

#7 Life Is Fine

Published: 1949


So since I’m still here livin’,

I guess I will live on.

I could’ve died for love—

But for livin’ I was born


Though you may hear me holler,

And you may see me cry—

I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,

If you gonna see me die.


     Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!

The speaker in this poem tries to sink in the river but is unable to do so as it is too cold. He then thinks about jumping down from the sixteenth storey of a building but is unable to do so because it is too high. So he decides that since he is still living, he might as well continue doing so. The poem talks about the importance of persistence in great adversity and how life is fine even with all the difficulties it throws at you. The poem is structured like a blues song and is among Langston’s most famous lyric poetry.

#6 Let America be America Again

Published: 1936


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.

This poem speaks of the injustice in America being faced by not only African Americans but also other economically disadvantaged and minority groups. The speaker declares that the dream of equality and opportunity for all in America has never been realized and thus America never was America to me’. He talks of racism, greed, corruption and materialism which has plunged millions into darkness and ruined the American dream. He ends the poem by urging the reader to take action to redeem our land and make America, America again.

#5 Mother to Son

Published: 1922


Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

In this famous poem, a mother tells her son, through an analogy of climbing a staircase, about the difficulties she has had to face in her life and how important it is to persevere through them and keep climbing on. She tells him that life for her has been no ‘crystal stair’, perhaps referring to the path the wealthy have to tread which is not loaded with such difficulties. Instead her stairs have tacks, splinters, dark spaces and no carpet to cover the floor. At the end of the poem, she urges her son to keep climbing up like she has done and never to turn back or fall.

#4 I, Too, Sing America

Published: 1945


I, too, sing America.


I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”




They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—


I, too, am America.

In this poem, Hughes declares that patriotism is not limited by race. He describes the unceasing racial discrimination in America through the perspective of an African American servant who is not allowed to sit at the table and must eat in the kitchen when someone visits the house. The poem then takes an optimistic tone suggesting that there will be a time tomorrow when blacks will sit at the table by the side of white Americans, who will be ‘ashamed’ for the way they have treated their ‘darker brother’ for centuries.

#3 The Weary Blues

Published: 1925


He did a lazy sway. . . .

He did a lazy sway. . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

This poem was supposedly written by Hughes after visiting a cabaret in Harlem. It was first published in the Opportunity magazine and won the magazine’s prize for best poem of the year. The poem takes place at an old Harlem bar on Lenox Avenue where a piano player is playing the blues. It is late at night; the musician is weary, and he is expressing his loneliness through his melancholy tone. The Weary Blues blends jazz, blues, and poetry into powerful lyric poetry. Music is the underlying theme of the poem. It is considered one of the best works of Hughes and is among his most renowned poems.

#2 Harlem (Dream Deferred)

Published: 1951


What happens to a dream deferred?


      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?


      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.


      Or does it explode?

Harlem first appeared in a 1951 poetry collection by Hughes titled Montage of a Dream Deferred. The dream in the poem refers to the American dream of rights; equality of opportunity for prosperity and success; liberty; and democracy; which at the time when Hughes wrote the poem was denied to most African Americans. In response to his question at the beginning of the poem, Hughes gives examples of what happens to things with deferral and negligence and asks whether the same is happening to the African American dream. Hughes brilliantly uses neat one syllable rhymes, as used in nursery rhymes, suggesting simplicity but accompanies it with imagery and rhythm which tell a more uncomfortable and hurtful tale. The famous last line of the poem then gives warning of dire consequences for everyone if the dream continues to be deferred.

#1 The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Published: 1921


I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

     flow of human blood in human veins.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes wrote his most famous poem when he was only seventeen. The idea of it came to him while he crossed the Mississippi river while travelling on a train to Mexico to meet his father. He began to think what Mississippi had meant to Negros in the past leading him to think what other rivers had meant to them and the thought came to him, “I’ve known rivers”. He then penned down this much acclaimed poem in around fifteen minutes. In the poem Langston connects to all his African forefathers through rivers which are ‘older than the flow of human blood in human veins’. He places his ancestors on important historical and cultural sites and uses active verbs like ‘I built’, ‘I bathed’, etc. to demonstrate their active participation in civilization since ancient times, even when they had to face discrimination.

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