Sunday, February 5, 2017

Guest Post – "Let America Be America Again"

 "Let America Be America Again" was written in 1935 by American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and published in the July 1936 issue of Esquire Magazine. This poem spoke powerfully to its time. And after 81 years it is powerfully relevant – again. I'll have a little more to say below about it and "the times," with some relevant links. But the poem is the main thing here. Read it aloud – with feeling – to yourself and/or to whoever is near:

Let America Be America Again

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,

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! 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

About "the times," does it sound familiar, the 1930s Then and Now? A financial crisis that should have been foreseen and forestalled, wrecking the economy, and all made worse by really bad and worsening weather (or climate). So many people rebelling, angry about being pushed down and left out – of the "America" dream. Try out the poem on any Trump supporters you know. Surely they will identify with the "we" of "From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,/We must take back our land again."

Of course, the Hughes "we" aspires to a more inclusive vision; "We, the people, must redeem . . . " We're actually all in this together, it's just hard to see how to get beyond factionalism. 

I'm especially happy to see Hughes' declaration of who actually "made America," not the founding fathers, not the robber barons, but "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, . . . " See my very first blog post, July 4, 2013, on this subject. 

To be better informed or reminded about Depression times I highly recommend a 55-minute PBS documentary on the 1930s, titled The Road to Rock Bottom: 

Could what happened Then happen to us Now? Some of the sources I respect are suggesting that 2017 could be 1929 all over again:

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