Langston Hughes was an African-American writer of the Harlem Renaissance era. Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902, Langston Hughes had a rough upbringing because of all the changes that were occurring at the time. A major upset in his life was when his father left to Mexico to continue his studies in law. When Hughes was seven or eight, he lived with his grandmother who told him stories of important historical African American heroes, such as Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and she even took him to hear W.
E.B. DuBois. Such tales encouraged young Langston to do great things in his life as an African-American growing up in a prejudice world.
Later on, Langston Hughes decided to move to New York, more specifically, Harlem, New York.Alain Locke, a black writer and educator, described it as, Here in Manhattan is not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro lifeIn Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. (Bernard, p.52) Here he was introduced and also became, apart of the Harlem Renaissance. New York attracted a large influx of blacks from the West Indies and even Africa. (Bernard, p.
53) This can better be called The Great Migration. In Harlem, Langston Hughes was exposed to the soothing sounds of Jazz and the Blues. Hughes poetry absorbed the rhythms of blues and jazzThe sights and sounds of Harlem, its musicinspired Langston more than his classes in mining and engineering. (Bernard, p.30) The Weary Blues and Trumpet Player, are two poems that demonstrate that Langston Hughes poetry was influenced by the music of Harlem.In the poem The Weary Blues, Hughes discusses his experience of watching another black artist.
The fact that he is writing about his observation of a musical artist demonstrates that his poetry is influenced by music. Hughes writes, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play. (DY, p.594) Hughes is describing the artists actions at the moment. He describes even where this performance is taking place in Harlem, Down on Lenox Avenue the other night. (DY, p.
594) Hughes uses the sound of the music, the actions of the artist, and his surroundings in order to form eloquent poetry. He uses intricate detail about the sounds of the music, in order to help the reader feel as if they are there themselves. In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone. I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moanThump, thump, thump went his foot on the floor. (DY, p.
594) First he describes the sound of the mans voice, and then he personifies the sound of the piano. Saying that the old piano moaned allows the reader to understand what it sounded like because moaning is a human action. Then Hughes talks about the mans foot hitting the floor. His word choice allows for the readers imagination to run freely.
It is clear from reading this poem that Hughes influential anecdote of his poetry was the blues of Harlem.Another poem that reflects the notion that jazz and the blues were an influential factor of Langston Hughes poetry is Trumpet Player. The title alone shows that the poem is influenced by jazz because the trumpet is a jazz instrument. In this poem, Hughes, tells a story about the trumpet player in the poem. Langston Hughes uses the trumpet players talent as a window to his soul and his lifes experience.
This is shown here when Hughes writes:
With the trumpet at his lips
Has dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
Where the smoldering memory of slave whips
Blazed to the crack of whips
About his thighs (P.596)
In this stanza, one can see that trumpet player expresses his pain of slavery through playing his trumpet. Hughes repeats the same line, With the trumpet at his lips (DY, p.596) in almost every stanza, and following it he describes a piece of the trumpet players life. Hughes does this so that the reader recognizes that through the trumpet players talent, one can see who he is and what he is about. Once again, the reader can clearly see that music, more specifically jazz in this poem, is a big part of his poetry.
This can be seen when he writes:
From the trumpet at his lips
Mixed with liquid fire.The rhythm
From the trumpet at his lips
Distilled from old desire-(P.596)
In this stanza, he explains how important playing the trumpet is for the black man. His word choice of describing playing the trumpet as ecstasy shows that music is very moving to Hughes.
Hughes vivid descriptions of the feeling of the music plainly demonstrate that jazz and the blues are a very important part of his soul and how he formulates his poetry.
Jazz and the blues are constantly being revisited in Langston Hughes poetry, and this is clearly demonstrated in his poems The Weary Blues, and Trumpet Player.The Weary Blues demonstrates his influence from the blues, while The Trumpet Player demonstrates his jazz influence. Thanks to the intense cultural exposure given to him by his grandmother and by his traveling, Hughes was able to broaden his mind to many issues and this allowed him to write with such incredible bursts of emotion and passion for his heritage.
Bernard, Emily. Remember me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl
Van Vechten 1925-1964. New York: Alfred A.
Knopt, 2001.DiYanni, Robert. Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: McGraw
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