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Vintage Hughes

Written by Langston Hughes

Vintage Hughes
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Category: Poetry - American - General; Poetry - American - African American; Literary Criticism - Poetry
Imprint: Vintage
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: January 2004
Price: $12.00
Can. Price: $16.00
ISBN: 978-1-4000-3402-4 (1-4000-3402-7)
Pages: 208


The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Aunt Sue's Stories

Aunt Sue has a head full of stories.

Aunt Sue has a whole heart full of stories.

Summer nights on the front porch

Aunt Sue cuddles a brown-faced child to her bosom

And tells him stories.

Black slaves

Working in the hot sun,

And black slaves

Walking in the dewy night,

And black slaves

Singing sorrow songs on the banks of a mighty river

Mingle themselves softly

In the flow of old Aunt Sue's voice,

Mingle themselves softly

In the dark shadows that cross and recross

Aunt Sue's stories.

And the dark-faced child, listening,

Knows that Aunt Sue's stories are real stories.

He knows that Aunt Sue never got her stories

Out of any book at all,

But that they came

Right out of her own life.

The dark-faced child is quiet

Of a summer night

Listening to Aunt Sue's stories.


I am a Negro:

Black as the night is black,

Black like the depths of my Africa.

I've been a slave:

Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.

I brushed the boots of Washington.

I've been a worker:

Under my hands the pyramids arose.

I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.

I've been a singer:

All the way from Africa to Georgia

I carried my sorrow songs.

I made ragtime.

I've been a victim:

The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.

They lynch me still in Mississippi.

I am a Negro:

Black as the night is black,

Black like the depths of my Africa.

Mexican Market Woman

This ancient hag

Who sits upon the ground

Selling her scanty wares

Day in, day round,

Has known high wind-swept mountains,

And the sun has made

Her skin so brown.

The South

The lazy, laughing South

With blood on its mouth.

The sunny-faced South,



The child-minded South

Scratching in the dead fire's ashes

For a Negro's bones.

Cotton and the moon,

Warmth, earth, warmth,

The sky, the sun, the stars,

The magnolia-scented South.

Beautiful, like a woman,

Seductive as a dark-eyed whore,

Passionate, cruel,

Honey-lipped, syphilitic-

That is the South.

And I, who am black, would love her

But she spits in my face.

And I, who am black,

Would give her many rare gifts

But she turns her back upon me.

So now I seek the North-

The cold-faced North,

For she, they say,

Is a kinder mistress,

And in her house my children

May escape the spell of the South.

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-


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.

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red

Her face is like an ancient cameo

Turned brown by the ages.

Come with a blast of trumpets,


When Susanna Jones wears red

A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night

Walks once again.

Blow trumpets,


And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red

Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,


A Black Pierrot

I am a black Pierrot:

She did not love me,

So I crept away into the night

And the night was black, too.

I am a black Pierrot:

She did not love me,

So I wept until the dawn

Dripped blood over the eastern hills

And my heart was bleeding, too.

I am a black Pierrot:

She did not love me,

So with my once gay-colored soul

Shrunken like a balloon without air,

I went forth in the morning

To seek a new brown love.

My People

The night is beautiful,

So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,

So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.

Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

Dark like me-

That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done.

Rest at pale evening . . .

A tall, slim tree . . .

Night coming tenderly

Black like me.

Troubled Woman

She stands

In the quiet darkness,

This troubled woman

Bowed by

Weariness and pain

Like an

Autumn flower

In the frozen rain,

Like a

Wind-blown autumn flower

That never lifts its head


I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I'll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody'll dare

Say to me,

"Eat in the kitchen,"



They'll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed-

I, too, am America.

The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway. . . .

He did a lazy sway. . . .

To the tune o' those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man's soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan-

"Ain't got nobody in all this world,

Ain't got nobody but ma self.

I's gwine to quit ma frownin'

And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more-

"I got the Weary Blues

And I can't be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can't be satisfied-

I ain't happy no mo'

And I wish that I had died."

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.


Little dark baby,

Little Jew baby,

Little outcast,

America is seeking the stars,

America is seeking tomorrow.

You are America.

I am America

America-the dream,

America-the vision.

America-the star-seeking I.

Out of yesterday

The chains of slavery;

Out of yesterday,

The ghettos of Europe;

Out of yesterday,

The poverty and pain of the old, old world,

The building and struggle of this new one,

We come

You and I,

Seeking the stars.

You and I,

You of the blue eyes

And the blond hair,

I of the dark eyes

And the crinkly hair.

You and I

Offering hands

Being brothers,

Being one,

Being America.

You and I.

And I?

Who am I?

You know me:

I am Crispus Attucks at the Boston Tea Party;

Jimmy Jones in the ranks of the last black troops

marching for democracy.

I am Sojourner Truth preaching and praying

for the goodness of this wide, wide land;

Today's black mother bearing tomorrow's America.

Who am I?

You know me,

Dream of my dreams,

I am America.

I am America seeking the stars.


Hoping, praying

Fighting, dreaming.


There are stains

On the beauty of my democracy,

I want to be clean.

I want to grovel

No longer in the mire.

I want to reach always

After stars.

Who am I?

I am the ghetto child,

I am the dark baby,

I am you

And the blond tomorrow

And yet

I am my one sole self,

America seeking the stars.


My old man's a white old man

And my old mother's black.

If ever I cursed my white old man

I take my curses back.

If ever I cursed my black old mother

And wished she were in hell,

I'm sorry for that evil wish

And now I wish her well.

My old man died in a fine big house.

My ma died in a shack.

I wonder where I'm gonna die,

Being neither white nor black?

Young Sailor

He carries

His own strength

And his own laughter,

His own today

And his own hereafter-

This strong young sailor

Of the wide seas.

What is money for?

To spend, he says.

And wine?

To drink.

And women?

To love.

And today?

For joy.

And the green sea

For strength,

And the brown land

For laughter.

And nothing hereafter.


I went to look for Joy,

Slim, dancing Joy,

Gay, laughing Joy,

Bright-eyed Joy-

And I found her

Driving the butcher's cart

In the arms of the butcher boy!

Such company, such company,

As keeps this young nymph, Joy!

Ruby Brown

She was young and beautiful

And golden like the sunshine

That warmed her body.

And because she was colored

Mayville had no place to offer her,

Nor fuel for the clean flame of joy

That tried to burn within her soul.

One day,

Sitting on old Mrs. Latham's back porch

Polishing the silver,

She asked herself two questions

And they ran something like this:

What can a colored girl do

On the money from a white woman's kitchen?

And ain't there any joy in this town?

Now the streets down by the river

Know more about this pretty Ruby Brown,

And the sinister shuttered houses of the bottoms

Hold a yellow girl

Seeking an answer to her questions.

The good church folk do not mention

Her name any more.

But the white men,

Habitués of the high shuttered houses,

Pay more money to her now

Than they ever did before,

When she worked in their kitchens.

Back Luck Card

Cause you don't love me

Is awful, awful hard.

Gypsy done showed me

My bad luck card.

There ain't no good left

In this world for me.

Gypsy done tole me-

Unlucky as can be.

I don't know what

Po' weary me can do.

Gypsy says I'd kill my self

If I was you.

Feet o' Jesus

At the feet o' Jesus,

Sorrow like a sea.

Lordy, let yo' mercy

Come driftin' down on me.

At the feet o' Jesus

At yo' feet I stand.

O, ma little Jesus,

Please reach out yo' hand.

A House in Taos


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?


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?


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.


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.

Brass Spittoons

Clean the spittoons, boy.



Atlantic City,

Palm Beach.

Clean the spittoons.

The steam in hotel kitchens,

And the smoke in hotel lobbies,

And the slime in hotel spittoons:

Part of my life.

Hey, boy!

A nickel,

A dime,

A dollar,

Two dollars a day.

Hey, boy!

A nickel,

A dime,

A dollar,

Two dollars

Buys shoes for the baby.

House rent to pay.

Gin on Saturday,

Church on Sunday.

My God!

Babies and gin and church

and women and Sunday

all mixed up with dimes and

dollars and clean spittoons

and house rent to pay.

Hey, boy!

A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord.

Bright polished brass like the cymbals

Of King David's dancers,

Like the wine cups of Solomon.

Hey, boy!

A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.

A clean bright spittoon all newly polished,-

At least I can offer that.

Come 'ere, boy!

Midnight Dancer

(To a Black Dancer in "The Little Savoy")


Of the jazz-tuned night,


Sweet as purple dew,


Like the pillows of all sweet dreams,

Who crushed

The grapes of joy

And dripped their juice

On you?

Harlem Night Song


Let us roam the night together


I love you.


The Harlem roof-tops

Moon is shining.

Night sky is blue.

Stars are great drops

Of golden dew.

Down the street

A band is playing.

I love you.


Let us roam the night together



I would liken you

To a night without stars

Were it not for your eyes.

I would liken you

To a sleep without dreams

Were it not for your songs.

Port Town

Hello, sailor boy,

In from the sea!

Hello, sailor,

Come with me!

Come on drink cognac.

Rather have wine?

Come here, I love you.

Come and be mine.

Lights, sailor boy,

Warm, white lights.

Solid land, kid.

Wild, white nights.

Come on, sailor,

Out o' the sea.

Let's go, sweetie!

Come with me.

Death of an Old Seaman

We buried him high on a windy hill,

But his soul went out to sea.

I know, for I heard, when all was still,

His sea-soul say to me:

Put no tombstone at my head,

For here I do not make my bed.

Strew no flowers on my grave,

I've gone back to the wind and wave.

Do not, do not weep for me,

For I am happy with my sea.