A tall slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me
- from Dream Variations, Langston Hughes
I like to collect quotes from poetry, from various sources, and whatnot. I have always liked this passage from Langston Hughes's poem "Dream Variations." Why do I like it? I like it because it is a relevant example of a poet exhorting darkness - extolling the color of blackness - rather than relegating "black" to a tired, and debilitating symbol of evil. So. That is why I like the poem. Hughes is resurrecting "black" as a symbol of beauty, not as a symbol of moral darkness.
The poem imagines a speaker coming upon nature at the moment the sun is going down. Looking at the landscape, there is a moment when day turns to night, and the beauty of the oncoming dark sky fills the viewer with a sense of the sublime, of beauty.
Interestingly, the last line from this passage, "Black like me" is used as the title of a book, by John Howard Griffiths - about a white man who changes the color of his skin to experience what it feels like to be black in the rural South during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. The book is strange because I do not think this kind of experiment would carry over well in today's political terms.
Do you have any poems that you've read that turn the tables on symbolism and imagery? I'd love to hear your examples - you can leave a comment in the box below.
Works CitedHughes, Langston. "Dream Variations" The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994.