Langston Hughes: Theme for English B

If you’re the type of person that enjoys poetry, that’s read poetry for some years, there is bound to be a poem that you got; that after reading it for the first or second or 100th time, you realized that you understood it on a deeper level than you previous realized was possible.

Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” was one of those poems for me. In the simple scene he sets up for his readers, Hughes manages to pack so much into the poem. From the geographic position of the school and his house to the his slight dressing down of his professor, it all seemed to make sense to me in a way that other poems hadn’t to that point. It was like a key had unlocked something in my brain, and with each poem thereafter, bits and pieces of those works seemed to make more sense after having read Hughes’ work. So, what was that poem for you? Was it one that I’ve already mentioned during that past few weeks?

Theme for English B

The instructor said,
     Go home and write 
     a page tonight. 
     And let that page come out of you--- 
     Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple? 
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. 
I went to school there, then Durham, then here 
to this college on the hill above Harlem. 
I am the only colored student in my class. 
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem 
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, 
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, 
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator 
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It's not easy to know what is true for you or me 
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what 
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you: 
hear you, hear me---we two---you, me, talk on this page. 
(I hear New York too.) Me---who? 
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. 
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. 
I like a pipe for a Christmas present, 
or records---Bessie, bop, or Bach. 
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like 
the same things other folks like who are other races. 
So will my page be colored that I write? 
Being me, it will not be white. 
But it will be 
a part of you, instructor. 
You are white--- 
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. 
That's American. 
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me. 
Nor do I often want to be a part of you. 
But we are, that's true! 
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me--- 
although you're older---and white--- 
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.

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