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Difficult Poem Interpretation

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A Day in Langston Hughes Life 1902-1967


Cultural Exchange
In the Quarter of the Negroes
Where the doors are doors of paper
Dust of dingy atoms
Blows a scratchy sound.
Amorphous jack-o'-Lanterns caper
And the wind won't wait for midnight
For fun to blow doors down.
By the river and the railroad
With fluid far-off goind
Boundaries bind unbinding
A whirl of whisteles blowing.
No trains or steamboats going--
Yet Leontyne's unpacking.

In the Quarter of the Negroes
Where the doorknob lets in Lieder
More than German ever bore,
Her yesterday past grandpa--
Not of her own doing--
In a pot of collard greens
Is gently stewing.

Pushcarts fold and unfold
In a supermarket sea.
And we better find out, mama,
Where is the colored laundromat
Since we move dup to Mount Vernon.

In the pot begind the paper doors
on the old iron stove what's cooking?
What's smelling, Leontyne?
Lieder, lovely Lieder
And a leaf of collard green.
Lovely Lieder, Leontyne.

You know, right at Christmas
They asked me if my blackness,
Would it rub off?
I said, Ask your mama.

Dreams and nightmares!
Nightmares, dreams, oh!
Dreaming that the Negroes
Of the South have taken over--
Voted all the Dixiecrats
Right out of power--

Martin Luther King is Governor of Georgia,
Dr. Rufus Clement his Chief Adviser,
A. Philip Randolph the High Grand Worthy.
In white pillared mansions
Sitting on their wide verandas,
Wealthy Negroes have white servants,
White sharecroppers work the black plantations,
And colored children have white mammies:
Mammy Faubus
Mammy Eastland
Mammy Wallace
Dear, dear darling old white mammies--
Sometimes even buried with our family.
Dear old
Mammy Faubus!

Culture, they say, is a two-way street:
Hand me my mint julep, mammny.
Hurry up!
Make haste!

- After reading all of Langston Hughes poems I felt that this one was one of the hardest to make sense of because I couldn’t really understand the first part of the poem. But I believe that Hughes wrote this poem describing the exchanges of cultural experiences between blacks and white. So the first part of the poem I believe is about the exchange of the white culture giving Leontyne Price a chance to become a famous American operatic soprano and enriching the black culture. Then in the second part of the poem it describes the exchange of the blacks returning the favorite by allowing the whites to experience the cultural life of what the blacks had to endure.


Sea Calm
How still,
How strangely still
The water is today,
It is not good
For water
To be so still that way.
- Reading this poem I believe that Hughes was trying to describe the hided truth behind what was going on in America. After doing some research I found that Hughes was very influenced by the bible. Also I found that the “sea” and “water” are two biblical symbols in the bible. The “sea” represents restless masses of society, usually unruly and lawless while “water” represents truth. So I believe that the “sea” would represent America because it is a society but it is also the land of the free which would mean that it is not ruled by anyone. Then the “water” would represent the idea/truth that America is suppose to symbolize freedom but there are people living there that don’t have freedom and people are over looking it as if there is nothing wrong.