“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

et America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

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!

The patriotic idea embodied in the poem “Let America Be America Again” is still relevant today, almost a century after the poem was written. The American dream looks great, but reality is often not so beautiful. Can the American dream of a world of equal opportunities again become the foundation for America? The author is convinced that this is possible.

Historical Context

Historical context is very important for this poem. This poem was written in 1935, and this is the period of the Great Depression. The economic crisis for many Americans has become an extremely difficult test. But Langston Hughes was sure – this is also an opportunity to revive the American dream in its original form, to make this dream come true.

The black author is constantly confronted with the inability to earn on his literary work. But these difficulties only strengthen the desire to achieve this goal. Finding your literary language, which would be accessible to listeners, made this poem very original. Here you can feel the influence of Walt Whitman, Paul Dunbar, as well as the rhythmic drawing of jazz compositions.

Central artistic reception

A central artistic technique used by the author is interesting. This method is identification. It allows you to literally feel yourself – as part of America – and black, and white, and red, and comes from any country in the Old World, a child young and full of strength, old and frail. And it is to feel the desire for freedom by every person – and a strong deficit of this very freedom.

Restoring the dream, the embodiment of this very dream of an ideal America as a land of freedom is the author’s main passion, and he suggests that everyone who has the same point of view on the question should join in the realization of this dream as himself did.

A dream that was not realized

The author constantly emphasizes the fact that the ideal America – the country of freedom, independence and equal opportunities – was never there. Even a constant appeal to the image of “old America”, in fact, only emphasizes the claim that this dream has not been embodied. The pioneers and all subsequent generations dreamed about it, but it still did not come true.

Fake patriotism (or romantic dreams of the ideal) alternates with a kind of inner voice. Strings, underlined by brackets, seem to reinforce the duality that the author experienced.

The competition and the right of a strong

The theme, quite sharply elevated in the poem, is competition. Indeed, equality of opportunity implies free competition. However, the author emphasizes that he encounters unnatural competition. And in this caricature image the right of the strong fixes people in different links of the hierarchical chain. It requires much more serious efforts than simply free competition to free from these links, if even possible.

Are egoism and greed really the same manifestations of the free man that the first settlers dreamed of? Is the reality really a dream, for which immigrants from many other countries are traveling to America today? The author rigidly ridicules this naivety, calling it only his own dream, a dream that has nothing to do with reality.

America Be America Again

This phrase sounds like a mantra, a spell. And, repeating these words, the author seems to lose hope every time – and finds it again. America here is not a real country, but an ideal world. A world where everyone is free, and freedom belongs to everyone. A world where property is the prerogative of the majority, not the minority.

But the hope for change is too little strength. To transform the developed imperfect world into the ideal one needs will. And the author is convinced – this will has already begun to accumulate in order to transform the world. A dream will manifest itself in its time.

The complex structure of the poem, composed of quatrains, octets, quintets, more or less complex forms, resembles a fiery speech, which turns into private reflection, then into an appeal. Surprisingly, it is this complex form that creates a unique sense of sincerity of the author. And it is this sincerity that bribes the reader, forcing him to support the idea – to transform an ordinary country into a truly ideal world.

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk