Essay and Poem
“Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes and “Riverbank Blues” bySterling A. Brown are illustrations of poems that fall in thecategory of the Harlem Renaissance.
Role and Importance
Hughes was among the very significant writers and philosophers duringthe Renaissance, a movement, which celebrated African American way oflife. The poet, through his writing tremendously assisted in theshaping of literature as well as politics. In the twentieth century,there was widespread discrimination against colored people, blacks(Gates et al. 2009). Hughes used poetry to advocate for equality ofall individuals regardless of color. His poetry comprised of greatcriticism towards racism and unfair treatment.
Brown, similar to Hughes played the significant role of enlighteningsociety on widespread race in America. Brown was a scholar andwriter, who studied African American culture and presented the samein his writing. At a period when blacks were being treated unfairlywhen compared to whites, Brown managed to write about the need forshowing humanity to all people by ending racial stereotypes (Gates etal. 2009). Both writers role was to promote African American culturethrough their poetry. Their significance lies in the ability to writepoems that condemned racism.
The phrase “double-consciousness” is used when referring to theinner conflict of being an African, while also depicting interest inbeing American. The conflict largely affected African Americansliving at a time when society was filled with American ideals. Assuch, it was difficult for individuals that were not white tocontinue upholding their African culture. In order to fit in society,most Africans were compelled to act American, while having to battlewith innate feeling of expressing one’s black culture (Shaduri,2010).
In the “Weary Blues” Hughes expresses the sorrows, misery inaddition to obstacles that African Americans face when working inplantations. At the time, it was however not possible for blacks toexpress their sorrows. By analyzing the choice of words in the laststanza, it is possible to identify elements of double-consciousness.Hughes chooses words like “and I can’t be satisfied” (Shaduri,2010). It would be unlikely for an African to sing of satisfaction,because it is a word that more of refers to someone that is alreadyfree. In another line “I ain’t happy no more” Hughes insinuatesthat the individual was at one point happy (Shaduri, 2010). Thechoices of words are associated with American singers, singing aboutlost love. They do not express the harsh living conditions of blacks.Hence, the proof of double-consciousness becomes apparent.
In “Riverbank Blues” the poem focuses on encouraging AfricanAmericans to not rest in the fight for their rights. The choices ofwords are representative of the African culture. However, the titleof the poem uses the word blues. Blues is used as a symbol of sorrow,obstacles or hopelessness. The word could be referring to thechallenges that blacks face when fighting for equality that causethem to despair. However, considering the African context of thepoem, the word “blues” is more American. It is a word most likelyto be associated with Americans. This shows that Brown, in hiswriting seems to borrow from American phrases, which illustratesdouble-consciousness.
The themes of determination and African American sorrow are apparentin Harlem Renaissance poetry. Determination- the poems are written ata time when blacks express their desire to be treated equally and inturn bring an end to racism. Poets active in shunning racism usedtheir writing to encourage fellow African Americans to not give up inthe push for equality. For instance, in “Riverbank Blues” thesixth stanza encourages the river to “better be movin…better betravelin….Riverbank’ll git you ef you stay” (Wagner, 1974). Thelines depict the need to continue with the fight for equality. Thisis because any reluctance means that whatever blacks want will not beachieved.
African American sorrow is apparent in the poem as they highlightthe life of blacks in a racist society. The Renaissance is a periodwhen blacks were treated unfairly and when they could not freelyexpress their desires. As such, living under such conditions theybecame sorrowful. This is best illustrated in “Weary Blues”. Thelines “Down on Lenox Avenue the other night, by the pale dullpallor of an old gas light” (Wagner, 1974). The use of Lenox Avenuesignifies that the character is African American and the words paledull express sorrow. It implies that the individual is unhappy withtheir current state of life.
So we must go on doing what we do,
In the fight for what we desire now and forever,
We cannot afford to stop in our fight,
For a better day
So life has become a cold dark corner,
In a world where we cannot express ourselves,
We realize we can achieve our desires,
For a better day
Our fathers before us paved the way,
And still we have not fully realized their dreams,
We cannot afford to give up now,
For a better day
Gates, H. L., Higginbotham, E. B.,& American Council of Learned Societies. (2009).Harlem Renaissancelives from the African American national biography.Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.
Shaduri, G. (2010). Double-consciousness and the Poetry of LangstonHughes on the Example of
Wagner, J. (1974). Black poets of the United States: from PaulLaurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. Illinois: University ofIllinois Press.
Weary Blues (1923). IBSU Scientific Journal, 4(1), 89-98.