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The Collected Poems
The Collected Poems

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Selected Poems
Selected Poems

The Ways of White Folk
TThe Ways of White Folk

The Panther and the Lash
The Panther and the Lash

The Dreamkeeper
The Dreamkeeper

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Remember Me to Harlem : The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964
Edited by Emily Bernard


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View the text of the Langston Hughes poem "Ode to Dinah" as it appeared in the first edition of the collection Ask Your Mama. The image of the page you will see includes both text and musical directions in the margin -- the entire series of poems in Ask Your Mama is meant to be read as and heard in the mind as a performance or to be actually performed in its entirety with a speaker and jazz musicians. Take a look and see how the text of the musical directions folds in with the poem itself.

page one | page two | page three | page four | page five | page six | page seven | page eight | page nine



While at the artist colony Yaddo in the summer of 1943, Hughes began "work on a series of verses with an assertive, brassy Harlem heroine named Alberta K. Johnson--or 'Madam' Johnson, as she insisted on being called. Hughes named the entire suite 'Madam to You.'" (from Langston Hughes : I Dream a World : 1941-1967 by Arnold Rampersad) Click HERE to see the drawing by E. McKnight Kauffer that accompanies "Madam's Past History" in Selected Poems.


Madam's Past History
from The Selected Poems of
Langston Hughes

My name is Johnson--
Madam Alberta K.
The Madam stands for business.
I'm smart that way.

I had a
The depression put
The prices lower.

Then I had a
Till I got mixed up
With a no-good man.

Cause I had a insurance
Said, We can't use you
Wealthy that way.

I said,
Just like the song,
You WPA folks take care of yourself--
And I'll get along.

I do cooking,
Day's work, too!
Alberta K. Johnson--
Madam to you.


Madam and the Rent Man
from The Selected Poems of
Langston Hughes

The rent man knocked.
He said, Howdy-do?
I said, What
Can I do for you?
He said, You know
Your rent is due.

I said, Listen,
Before I'd pay
I'd go to Hades
And rot away!

The sink is broke,
The water don't run,
And you ain't done a thing
You promised to've done.

Back window's cracked,
Kitchen floor squeaks,
There's rats in the cellar,
And the attic leaks.

He said, Madam,
It's not up to me.
I'm just the agent,
Don't you see?

I said, Naturally,
You pass the buck.
If it's money you want
You're out of luck.

He said, Madam,
I ain't pleased!
I said, Neither am I.

So we agrees!


Madam and Her Madam
from The Selected Poems of
Langston Hughes

I worked for a woman,
She wasn't mean--
But she had a twelve-room
House to clean.

Had to get breakfast,
Dinner, and Supper, too--
Then take care of her children
When I got through.

Wash, iron, and scrub,
Walk the dog around--
It was too much,
Nearly broke me down.

I said, Madam,
Can it be
You trying to make a
Pack-horse out of me?

She opened her mouth.
She cried, Oh, no!
You know, Alberta,
I love you so!

I said, Madam,
That may be true--
But I'll be dogged
If I love you!


Madam and the Census Man
from The Selected Poems of
Langston Hughes

The census man,
The day he came round,
Wanted my name
To put it down.

I said, JOHNSON,
But he hated to write
The K that way.

He said, What
Does K stand for?
I said, K--
And nothing more.

He said, I'm gonna put it
I said, If you do,
You lie.

My mother christened me
You leave my name
Just that way!

He said, Mrs.,
(With a snort)
Just a K
Makes your name too short.

I said, I don't
Give a damn!
Leave me and my name
Just like I am!

Furthermore, rub out
That MRS., too--
I'll have you know
I'm Madam to you!



More poems by Langston Hughes...

Juke Box Love Song
from The Collected Poems of
Langston Hughes

I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem's heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day--
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.


Daybreak in Alabama
fromThe Collected Poems of
Langston Hughes

When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.



"Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria"
fromThe Collected Poems of
Langston Hughes

     Fine living . . . a la carte?
     Come to the Waldorf-Astoria!

Look! See what Vanity Fair says about the
     new Waldorf-Astoria:

     "All the luxuries of private home. . . ."
Now, won't that be charming when the last flop-house
     has turned you down this winter?
"It is far beyond anything hitherto attempted in the hotel
     world. . . ." It cost twenty-eight million dollars. The fa-
     mous Oscar Tschirky is in charge of banqueting.
     Alexandre Gastaud is chef. It will be a distinguished
     background for society.
So when you've no place else to go, homeless and hungry
     ones, choose the Waldorf as a background for your rags--
(Or do you still consider the subway after midnight good

Take a room at the new Waldorf, you down-and-outers--
     sleepers in charity's flop-houses where God pulls a
     long face, and you have to pray to get a bed.
They serve swell board at the Waldorf-Astoria. Look at the menu, will


Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
     Why not?
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
     your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
     because your hands dug coal, drilled stone, sewed gar-
     ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
     and live easy.
(Or haven't you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bit-
     ter bread of charity?)
Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
     warm, anyway. You've got nothing else to do.

Excerpted from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes. Copyright (c) 1994 by the estate of Langston Hughes. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of these poems may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Photo credit: Consuelo Kanaga.