Analysis --- Democracy by Langston Hughes


This poem is another great example of Langston Hughes' deep reading of America, and another cry for it's enfranchised citizens to not simply sweep the disenfranchised into the gutter. This was a particularly bold stand to take in 1949, when Hughes released the poem, but remains relevant today in its cry for freedom.
I chose this poem because it continues on the theme of yesterday's poem, not to mention that it fits nicely with framing of the president's State of the Union address last night.

Let's look again at the universality of Hughes declaration. We know that he was a black man, born into unjust times, but though that is the source of his poem's emotion it is not bound by it. This poem's narrator stays clear of identifying himself explicitly as black, or any other minority group, and in doing so the poem becomes a rallying cry for freedom that echoes through the ages.

His language, again, is as strikingly strong and direct - so much so that there is little need for analysis. The simple lines "I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. / I cannot live on tomorrow's bread," is so simply put, and with such spare beauty, that it is surprising it has not been co-opted by hawks at large as a stirring justification for, say, military intervention in Iraq.

Just as with yesterday's poem, there is little to be said about the scansion. Hughes is primarily a writer of the vulgar, in subject matter as well as form. For meter he favors the uneven vocal patterns of everyday speech and for his verses blank rhyme interspersed with simple rhymes that lend strength to the key lines. This was a particularly unusual style to have during the time that Hughes first began to be published - in the 1920's when many modernist poets and authors were writing from the extreme opposite pole of esoteric obtuseness and high pretension (a la Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot).

We'll look at another Hughes poem tomorrow as we continue to explore his bold take on America and his position as a poet vulgarian, writing for all, that served to displease so many.

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