Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan

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Literature and Composition II

Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan

Langston Hughes and Bob Dylan are two poets from different eras in modern American poetry. Although Bob Dylan is more characterized as a songwriter, I see much of his work as poetry. In this essay, I will discuss Hughes' poem "Harlem [1]" and Dylan's "Times They Are A-Changin"' as commentaries on are culture, but from different backgrounds.

Both poets use social protest to make their points. Langston is talking of times that were not particularly good in any way for African Americans. In the poem "Harlem [1]", he speaks of a time when black people were considered lower than the average American citizen. He remembers how they were not accepted when he was younger; and for him and his race, he feels things haven't changed; and even if they had, how could the past be forgotten or forgiven?

Sure, we remember.

Now when the man at the corner store

Say's sugar's gone up another two cents.

And bread one,

And there's a new tax on cigarettes-

We remember the job we never had,

Never could get,

And can't have now

Because we're colored. (768)

In this verse of the poem he is talking about how African Americans have viewed the world from Harlem and live and unjust life, how can they forget that.

Bob Dylan speaks of social protest throughout his poem. He is proclaiming to the world that we shall all come together and forget the past for a united future. He is saying that everything that has been normal is about to change.

Come gather round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You'll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin'

Then you better start swimmin'

Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a chagain
'. (711)

A difference in the two poets definitely comes into play when we look at of the speakers in these poems. Hughes' persona is that of a black male looking back on how the black race was treated badly, but he is expressing the beauty in their struggle. Hughes talks about why black Americans should achieve their goals, "On the Cultural Achievements of African Americans"

There is so much richness in Negro humor, so much beauty in black dreams, so much dignity in our struggle, and so much universality in our problems, in us-in each living human being of color-that I do not understand the tendency today that some American Negro artists have of seeking to run away from themselves, of running away from us, of being afraid to sing our own songs, paint our own pictures, write about our selves-when it is our music that has given America is greatest music out humor that has enriched its entertainment media for the past 100 years, out rhythm that has guided its dancing feet From plantation days to the Charleston…Yet there are some of us who say, "Why write about Negroes? Why not just a writer?" And why not-if no one wants to be "just a writer?" Negroes in a free world should be whatever each wants to be-even if it means being "just a writer…" (Hughes, 773)

On the other hand, Dylan's young white male speaker states that the youth of America is changing socially and warning "adults" to join in or get out of the way.

Come mother and father

Throughout the land

And don't criticize

What you cannot

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your demand

Your old is

Rapidly again

Please get out of the new one

If you can't lend your hand

For the times they are a changin' (711)

The speaker has a strong sense of unity for the human race to move ahead in the world. Ginsberg stated about this album, "Now he's going deeper into an exploration of American roots, which is interesting particularly for one who hasn't been doing that (3). He was saying that...
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