O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
–Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again
The entire text of the poem can be found at the Academy of American Poets.
NB: This post was planned prior to the heartbreaking deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Upon reflection, I decided not to address current events, but to move ahead with my plans for the post anyway–other people are far more qualified and have more right to comment upon these events, and I am qualified to comment upon literature.
American poetry is the poetry of the oppressed.
The Idea of America–the Form, if you will allow me some Plato–is a place for the oppressed. A place where they cease to be oppressed and stand on their own two feet, where any man or woman can be free.
Sadly, the Idea of America is not the reality.
Enter the poet.
The American poet sees the American Idea and recognizes that it is not reality. He (or she, though I will use the masculine pronoun since this post was inspired by Langston Hughes) is not content to simply admire the dream; he must call out those who have failed the dream. He must bring our attention to the flaws.
The American poet cannot simply let things be.
This presents a problem: the poet is a gadfly, and discomforts those who would rather remain blind and deaf to oppression and reality. They do not want to listen. The poet–and the oppressed for whom he speaks–refuse to be silenced.
The poet of necessity is a polarizing influence in a nation that desperately needs to be united. But this is not the poet’s fault; he brings to the surface the already-existing wounds because this is the only way for the wounds to be healed. The nation was never completely united in the first place.
America has not yet been America yet. But the poet dares to dream that it might yet be.
- Recommended Reading:
- Maya Angelou
- Emily Dickinson
- Allen Ginsberg
- T.S. Eliot
- William Carlos Williams
- Shel Silverstein
- Phyllis Wheatley
- Mary Oliver