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Anthony Bourdain  – Rest In Peace

Sonnet XX

By Langston Hughes

POOR soul, the centre of my sinful earth–
My sinful earth these rebel powers array–
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men;
And Death once dead, there ‘s no more dying then.

 

I Dream A World

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Langston Hughes Testifying Before The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1953.

Blacklisted 

by Carl Sandburg

Why shall I keep the old name?
What is a name anywhere anyway?
A name is a cheap thing all fathers and mothers leave each child:
A job is a job and I want to live, so
Why does God Almighty or anybody else care whether I take a new name to go by?

I Dream A World

by Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

 


In my recent blog post, Break My Ghostly Heart,  I wrote about Dorothy Parker being blacklisted and the impact it had on her.  However no individual was accused by the House Un-american Activities Committee (HUAC) of having more communist associations than Langston Hughes. Hughes would be forced to testify before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s subcommittee in 1953. In the end, Hughes’ legacy is one as a true American, not McCarthy.  The current claims of being “more patriotic” by Trump and his supporters ring with the same falsehoods that McCarthyism did in the 1950’s.

Langston responded to a questionnaire sent by Elmer Rice to 50 writers who had been named as suspected communists by the government in Red Channels.  Rice asked Langston a series of questions, but simply put – he was asking how has being blacklisted impacted you.   Here is a portion of Hughes’ brilliant reply to Rice in a letter in 1952.


Elmer Rice:   QUESTIONNAIRE

  1. Has the publication of your name in Red Channels adversely affected your employment or the use of your material in the radio and television fields?

 

Dear Elmer,

Here are my answers to the questionnaire re the FCC and blacklisting in TV and radio:

  1. The publication of my name in RED CHANNELS has not affected my employment in TV or radio. Being colored I received no offers of employment in these before RED CHANNELS appeared, and have had none since—so it hasn’t affected me at all.
  2. Answered above.
  3. Negro writers, being black, have always been blacklisted in radio and TV. Only once in a blue moon are any colored writers given an opportunity to do a script and then, usually, with no regularity, and no credits. Like Hollywood, Negroes just simply are not employed in the writing fields in the American entertainment industry.
  4. My personal experience has been that in my 25 years of writing, I have not been asked to do more than four or five commercial one-shot scripts. These were performed on major national hook-ups, but produced for me no immediate additional jobs or requests. One script for BBC was done around the world with an all-star cast. No American stations offered me work. My agents stated flatly, “It is just about impossible to sell a Negro writer to Hollywood or radio, and they use Negro subject matter very rarely.” Even the “Negro” shows like “Amos and Andy” and “Beulah” are written largely by white writers—the better to preserve the stereotypes, I imagine.

During the war I did a number of requested scripts for the Writers War Board, used throughout the country. Most of the white writers serving this committee also got any number of paying jobs to do patriotic scripts. Not one chance to do a commercial script was offered me.

My one period of work in radio covering several weeks was a few summers ago scripting the NBC show, “Swing Time at The Savoy”, a Negro variety revue. This was achieved at the insistence of the N.A.A.C.P. that objected to the stereotypes in the audition scripts written by white writers. NBC had at that time had not one Negro writer on its staff—which would have saved them making the mistakes the N.A.A.C.P. objected to and which were offensive to the general Negro public. As far as I know, Negro writers are, however, “blacklisted” at NBC. I know of none working there regularly.

Richard Durham in Chicago and Bob Lucas and Woody Bovell in New York are excellent radio writers but, being Negroes, they work with great irregularity—not due to being red but due to being colored.

  1. No point in my appearing—the color bars everyone knows have been with us since radio began, before TV was born, and long ere that.

I’d like to add, however, my personal gratitude to you and the committee for your very fine stand in relation to the freedom to work—for those writers who are white enough to work (when not red-baited) and I hope as well for those writers who have been blacklisted from birth.

And to you for your personal stand, Elmer, my very great admiration.

Sincerely yours,
Langston Hughes

 

Excerpted from “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” (Knopf), edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro. Copyright © 2014 the estate of Langston Hughes.

Who Are You That Draws Your Veil Across The Stars

Liberty
Statue of Liberty

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)


 

So begins Langston Hughes classic poem.    Although the rest of the poem does not follow strictly a sonnet’s structure there are elements of a sonnet throughout.  Have you ever considered why Hughes and many other poets and playwrights include sonnets in the midst of their verse?   I have a theory.  It’s because 10 syllables on a line is a natural spacing between breaths.  Poetry or a script that is meant to be read aloud, lends itself to the first step in writing a sonnet of 10 syllables, and including a sonnets rhyme sequence helps listeners, readers, orators and actors navigate the script’s structure.

I find it egregious that Donald Trump ripped off his Make America Great Again slogan from Langston Hughes.  I wonder if he or any of his Republican followers are aware of Langston Hughes poem and legacy. One of the hypocrisies of Trumpism is that its narrow “me first” narcissistic worldview undermines the very dream that is America.  Trumpism has a rotten core of greed and selfishness.

There is some irony though that there never has been a period in our history of our nation where the reality of America matched up to the dream of America.  Maybe that’s what makes our democracy and this nation enduring.  The fact that every generation has to deal with it’s own hypocrisy, regardless of your own personal beliefs and values, we are all hypocrites in that our actions do not live up to our ideals.   Every generation must face itself, understand itself, seek to do better, seek to let America be America again, even if it never was in the first place, other than as an ideal, as a beacon, as a bright light in the harbor.

Here is Hughes’ poem in its entirety:


Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

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.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

 

 

Even After All This Time

hands-of-love

“Even 
After 
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

Hafiz

 

 

When Sue Wears Red

by Langston Hughes

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red
A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

What Only The Poets Know

 

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Claude McKay

If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, then he can not by loyal to anything.

Claude McKay.

Poetry

By Claude McKay (1889 – 1948)

Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee.
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up–
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth–
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!


 

Check out this excerpt of an audio recording of a James Baldwin speech.  In it he says; “the artist’s struggle for integrity is a metaphor for the struggle of all human beings to become human beings.”

What kind of artist are you?  What kind of artist do you want want to be?  Interesting questions to contemplate.

 

A House in Taos

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Rain

Thunder of the Rain God:
.        .And we three
.        .Smitten by beauty.

Thunder of the Rain God:
.      .And we three
.      .Weary, weary.

Thunder of the Rain God:
.        .And you, she, and I
.        .Waiting for nothingness.

Do you understand the stillness
.        .Of this house
.       ..In Taos
Under the thunder of the Rain God?

Sun

That there should be a barren garden
About this house in Taos
Is not so strange,
But that there should be three barren hearts
In this one house in Taos—
Who carries ugly things to show the sun?

Moon

Did you ask for the beaten brass of the moon?
We can buy lovely things with money,
You,she,and I,
Yet you seek,
As though you could keep,
This unbought loveliness of moon.

Wind

Touch our bodies, wind.
Our bodies are separate, individual things.
Touch our bodies, wind,
But blow quickly
Through the red, white, yellow skins
Of our bodies
To the terrible snarl,
Not mine,
Not yours,
Not hers,
But all one snarl of souls.
Blow quickly, wind,
Before we run back
Into the windlessness—
With our bodies—
Into the windlessness
Of our house in Taos.

 

Yet Do I Marvel

Langston Hughes and Countee Culleen
Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen – Oil on Canvas by Ealy Mays 2011

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King

Yet Do I Marvel

By Countee Cullen (1903 – 1946)

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

 

Georgia Dusk

by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides

Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk
Whose Blood? …Everyone’s

Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunsets bleed