Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Say It Plain"

Two great American poets share a birthday today: Langston Hughes (born in 1902) and Galway Kinnell (born in 1927). Galway Kinnell's Mortal Acts Mortal Words (1980) has long been one of my favorite books of poetry. Here are links to two of the most memorable poems from that book: "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps" and "St. Francis and the Sow."

And here is a link to Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again." Or you can hear poet Nikki Giovanni reading the poem last November, a week after the election of President Barack Obama. The poem is about the promise and the failure of America, about the American dream and the waking reality of injustice and inequality, about the continuing struggle of Americans to live up to their founding ideals. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Hughes' poem in the April 1967 speech in which he declared his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Elizabeth Alexander echoed it again when she said, in her inaugural poem, "Say it plain: that many have died for this day." Here are the words of Langston Hughes:
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!

2 comments:

Christopher Tassava said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing those poems. Kinnell's are strikingly good (though as a rule I like poetry that makes [uh] poetry out of the mundane), but Hughes' is knock-out good. Ever think about a weekly post on one great poem? I for one would follow those links.

Jim H. said...

Plain is an anagram for Palin. Foreshadowing?

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