Depression era moms and a poem by Langston Hughes

“Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows,
Help us to see
That without the dust the rainbow
Would not be.”
– Langston Hughes



Family during the Great Depression (Oklahoma) by Dorothea Lange (1936), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div. digital ID cph.3c29107

As a youngster, Mother to Son was one of the first poems I read by Langston Hughes. He had me hooked right away.  I wondered when and where he’d met my mother and my grandmother. Their native language and my mom’s American idiom were different from that of Hughes’ anonymous mom but the song was the same. These were Great Depression era (1929 – late ’30s) mothers. Yes! even mine. My big sister was born in 1936. It was a hard time for most everyone but harder still for minorities, emigres, and single mothers. Hughes wrote the poem when he was twenty-one years old, so the poem actually predates the Depression and he is illustrating the Black-American experience and a mother encouraging her son to preserver in spite of all. This poem, however, has such a wonderful heroic quality and a continuing universal appeal. This is the voice of mothers throughout time and all over the world who are living in strained circumstances.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– Langston Hughes, excerpt from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
© Hughes’ estate

Langston Hughes (1943) by Gordon Parkes / Public Domain

LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967), an inspiration in so many ways,  was a social activist and leader of the HarlemRenaissance, a poet, novelist, playwright, and columnist.  Hughes was an early innovator of a new style in his time, jazz poetry – i.e. jazz-like rhythms, improvisational feel – and much of his poetry was on social justice themes. (Jazz poetry tends to be consider outsider art. It is the root of poetry slams and hip-hop.)



ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
“Over His Morning Coffee,” Front Porch Review

A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, an info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



 

5 thoughts on “Depression era moms and a poem by Langston Hughes

  1. This makes me think of my Grandmother. She was brought over to Canada from England and raised 8 children on a will and a prayer through the 30’s. She did it will a lot of heart, hard work. and determination. A thought provoking piece Jamie. Thank you. 💜🌼

    Liked by 2 people

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