AMERICA AGAIN.

Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes
Let 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,
America!
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!

Comments

  1. Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!

  2. Thanks — a worthwhile poem for reading today.

  3. THANK YOU. All of the excitement of last night was almost eclipsed by propositions on the ballot in AR, AZ, FL and CA. But this renews and inspires me and I feel ready to start over, to try again. I’d like to link to this, if I may?

  4. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yeah. I have US citizenship, but it will be nice not hear the words ‘the greatest nation on earth‘ repeated for a few years. It was so rude to the other little nations.

  5. I’d like to link to this, if I may?
    Hell, yeah; Langston linkage is always a good thing.

  6. Incandescent. A beautiful choice for a beautiful morning!

  7. Beautiful.

  8. Beautiful.
    Thank you.

  9. This quote from Stephen Vincent Benét should fit in well here.
    Oh yes, I know the faults …
    The lyncher’s rope, the bought justice, the wasted land,
    The scale on the leaf, the borers in the corn,
    The finks with their clubs, the grey sky of relief,
    All the long shame of our hearts and the long disunion.
    I am merely remarking – as a country, we try.
    As a country, I think we try.

  10. Menacle Gosaca says:

    Rock on, Mr. Hat!

  11. Thank you!

  12. where he himself is free…That any man be crushed…the red man…the young man…work the men…the man who never got ahead…the man who sailed…where every man is free…the poor man’s…
    I was a fan of Langston Hughs back in the 60′s, but I hadn’t remembered his language being so male-centric.

  13. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Grrrrrr…

  14. Nijma, the poem was written in the 1930s. Everything was male-centric back then. Wymmyn power wouldn’t come along for another generation.

  15. Incandescent. A beautiful choice for a beautiful morning!
    Without approving of the current wave of revivified American exceptionalism, a huge proportion of Australians agree that this is a beautiful morning. In fact, the proportion here is far greater than the proportion among Americans; and sadly, much greater than the proportion among white American males.
    We don’t talk politics here, do we? But we may remark on the fulfilment of long-dreamt dreams.

  16. We may, we may indeed.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    It is morning again in America!
    (As opposed to 1980, when there was mourning again in America.)

  18. This is sad to read after the election. I hope one day we can elect true leaders to restore American ideals and values.
    But at least AZ, FL, and CA preserved the sanctity of marriage. At least until Congress or the courts overrules the will of the people.

  19. Great stuff, LH. Have loved the poetry of Langston Hughes for years.

  20. I appreciated Panu’s quotation from Stephen Vincent Benét as well: As a country, I think we try. Many don’t even try, and with all its faults and failures the USA remains an example as a country that at least has had the ideal of giving all its citizens an equal chance.

  21. Even as a non-American, it still felt like we finally entered the 21st century on Tuesday night.
    Pity at least one person commenting here still seems to be stuck back in the 17th.

  22. Thank you; this was the perfect poem for the day after. You inspired my post: http://aahgirls.blogspot.com/2008/11/dreams.html It’s not as polished as I would like, but the hope shines through.

  23. fimus scarabaeus says:

    Vive la differance , we all be human with all the variations to make it interesting.
    No more 6 yr olds in the schoolyard chanting “I’m king of the mountain”
    let us try to make the world a better place.
    Thasnks for the word

  24. “and sadly, much greater than the proportion among white American males.’
    What do you know about how white American males voted, Noetica, or what their opinion of the outcome is? Obama pulled more of the white vote than any of the last five or six Democratic presidential candidates, and as it happens, all those candidates were, you guessed it – white! and it stands to reason that a hefty percentage of those white voters were men. I am one of them, and there about 25 million more of us.

  25. I seem to have happened by mistake on a dog eat dog political blog where everyone is viciously bashing each other over the head with homophobia, misandry, various pigmentation phobias, and bitter clinging to a patriarchal hierarchy.
    When I wandered in here by mistake, I was looking for the blog called Language Hat, a dog eat dog blog where people viciously bash each other over the head over split infinitives, dangling participles, and the appropriate use of words derived from Latin.

  26. Obama pulled more of the white vote than any of the last five or six Democratic presidential candidates…
    Jim, if we can believe Peter Wallsten in the Los Angeles Times (5 November 2005), you are right about that. But if the election had been held only among white men, ceteris paribus Obama would certainly have lost:

    Obama won the votes of 4 in 10 white men – higher than the last five Democratic presidential nominees, according to a National Journal study of exit polls…

    I made no claim about previous elections.
    What do I know about these things? I know what I read from reliable sources, including a private report from one well-placed and astute American observer whom I trust. A white American male.
    Some figures for the white male vote (contrasted with the white female vote in brackets) in certain key states (source, CNN):
    Indiana
    Obama 41% (48%); McCain 57% (51%)
    North Carolina
    Obama 32% (38%); McCain 67% (62%)
    Ohio
    Obama 46% (48%); McCain 53% (51%)
    Pennsylvania
    Obama 43% (51%); McCain 56% (48%)
    Virginia
    Obama 37% (40%); McCain 61% (59%)
    I regret commenting on the breakdown of the voting by sex and race in the first place, even though my observation was demonstrably true (assuming only that voters generally do not feel good the morning after their candidate loses!). Let’s now keep things statesmanlike rather than political – as Obama did in his victory speech, and McCain did admirably in his concession speech.

  27. Wymmyn power wouldn’t come along for another generation.
    It was women who were in the vanguard of the abolitionist movement, putting aside the struggle for their own rights that started at Seneca Falls in 1848 in order to put an end the “greater evil” of slavery. It was women who marched for the passage of the nineteenth amendment which in 1920 finally gave women the right to vote. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sex.
    Today the status of women in United States ranks 22nd in the world.
    So I see your Langston Hughes and I raise you one Maya Angelou:

    Woman Work
    I’ve got the children to tend
    The clothes to mend
    The floor to mop
    The food to shop
    Then the chicken to fry
    The baby to dry
    I got company to feed
    The garden to weed
    I’ve got shirts to press
    The tots to dress
    The can to be cut
    I gotta clean up this hut
    Then see about the sick
    And the cotton to pick.
    Shine on me, sunshine
    Rain on me, rain
    Fall softly, dewdrops
    And cool my brow again.
    Storm, blow me from here
    With your fiercest wind
    Let me float across the sky
    ‘Til I can rest again.
    Fall gently, snowflakes
    Cover me with white
    Cold icy kisses and
    Let me rest tonight.
    Sun, rain, curving sky
    Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
    Star shine, moon glow
    You’re all that I can call my own.

  28. Comparison of 2008 white male vote with 2000 and 2004 presidential elections:
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1108/15297.html

  29. A.J.P. Crown says:

    If you want politically correct language, go watch television.

  30. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “My whole life I have been waving the names of writers, as if we needed rescue,” Mr. Leonard said. “From these writers, for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy and amazing grace. At an average of five books a week, not counting all those sighed at and nibbled on before they go to the Strand, I will read 13,000. Then I’m dead. Thirteen thousand in a lifetime.”
    NY Times on John Leonard

  31. Now that’s really a shame, Crown. His was a voice that should still be out there.

  32. I appreciated Panu’s quotation from Stephen Vincent Benét as well: As a country, I think we try. Many don’t even try, and with all its faults and failures the USA remains an example as a country that at least has had the ideal of giving all its citizens an equal chance.
    That is the point. During the last wave of stupid anti-Americanism among European lefties – of which, mind you, I saw myself as a representative until quite recently, although my politics are these days rather center-bourgeois-liberal – I made a conscious attempt to find out more about American history and culture, because even where I broadly agreed with the leftist criticisms, I was irritated by the demonization of the States which informed many of those criticisms. So, basically it is thanks to Dubya and his presidential years that I have taken any interest in American culture and history and discovered, for instance, Benét, Vachel Lindsay, and, yes, Langston Hughes too.
    The image of “us trying” is very suggestive and very empathy-provoking, and in fact it is thanks to Benét that I have been able to see the good intentions – often misguided, but good intentions – behind many of the States’ blunders and mistakes. In fact, these days I tend to see many of those blunders as an honest attempt to assume responsibility and leadership. And, ultimately, I would say that all those mistakes and blunders boil down to the USA not being USA enough, not being consistent enough about American values.
    One thing, by the way, what I admire about Obama is his capacity of actually mobilizing the Americans’ patriotism. Too many European leftists are happy to leave the language and imagery of patriotism to racists and right-wing thugs. Obama, however, inspired patriotic hopes and united black and white, straight and gay, native and immigrant under one American flag. This is a great example for the rest of us to follow. It is such a good thing for the whole world that I cannot really find the words for it.

  33. Thanks, Panu. That’s a thoughtful and generous comment.

  34. Obama united … straight and gay
    Many gays and lesbians who origainlly followed HRC then worked intensely to elect Obama in California now have feelings of regret and betrayal. First from Obama’s courting of McLurkin and other evangelicals who think homosexuality can be “cured” by prayer–an opinion not shared by the scientific community–and then by Obama’s support of Proposition 8 making marriage between gays illegal. Many Californians recieved robocalls with Obama’s voice telling them to vote against Proposition 8. African-Americans voted 7 to 10 in favor of the ban on gay marriage .

  35. Kron: If you want politically correct language
    Maya Angelou has never been considered “politically correct”, at least not here. For a long time she was more or less an underground poet whose popularity spread by word of mouth.
    You don’t have to like her if you don’t want to, Kron, poetry is a very personal thing, but many believe her appeal goes far beyond the African American community. I’m not real big on poetry myself, but she sure beats those classes where literature instructors fawn over Leaves of Grass.

  36. It is unfortunate that, all too often, intellectualism and modern thought is presumed to be an exclusive ability of the political, progressive left. While I don’t doubt the majority of the educated community is of that persuasion, there is an unexcused lack of respect for those who hold to conservative values. We are constantly put down as some backwater bigots, and there is little willingness to engage in rational discussion by those on the left.
    On this blog, I was insulted because I don’t think the definition of marriage should be changed from its historical basis. There is an arrogant, elitist attitude that prevents real dialogue and civil discussion.

  37. oops, typo: “Many Californians received robocalls with Obama’s voice telling them to vote for
    Proposition 8.”– for the ban on gay marriage.

  38. I don’t know about those robocalls, but Obama is on record opposing Prop 8.

  39. Obama is on record
    Here is the full transcript. There are recordings of robocalls you can google. The part the robocall uses I put in bold. So Obama opposes gay marriage but not civil unions? I’m foggy on the difference myself, but from what I’ve heard, civil union just doesn’t cut it, gays want to get married. I’ve got a great idea. Let’s just invalidate everyone’s marriage. *insert irony smiley*

    WARREN: There’s a lot more I’d like to ask on that. We have 15 other questions here. Define marriage.
    OBAMA: I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix. But –
    WARREN: Would you support a Constitutional Amendment with that definition?
    OBAMA: No, I would not.
    WARREN: Why not?
    OBAMA: Because historically — because historically, we have not defined marriage in our constitution. It’s been a matter of state law. That has been our tradition. I mean, let’s break it down. The reason that people think there needs to be a constitutional amendment, some people believe, is because of the concern that — about same-sex marriage. I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions. I do believe that we should not — that for gay partners to want to visit each other in the hospital for the state to say, you know what, that’s all right, I don’t think in any way inhibits my core beliefs about what marriage are. I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I can afford those civil rights to others, even if I have a different perspective or different view.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    It seems to me that robocalls would be quite easy to fake, even with some of the security measures currently in place.

  41. It is unfortunate that, all too often, intellectualism and modern thought is presumed to be an exclusive ability of the political, progressive left. While I don’t doubt the majority of the educated community is of that persuasion, there is an unexcused lack of respect for those who hold to conservative values. We are constantly put down as some backwater bigots, and there is little willingness to engage in rational discussion by those on the left.
    On this blog, I was insulted because I don’t think the definition of marriage should be changed from its historical basis. There is an arrogant, elitist attitude that prevents real dialogue and civil discussion.
    dan: While I agree with your point about prejudice against conservatives (and have frequently said so at MetaFilter), in this particular case you must realize that your “definition of marriage” is harmful to a great many people who suffer from it in the real world, and you can’t expect them not to be upset by it. While I wish everything could be discussed rationally, as someone with gay relatives and friends I can completely understand why it is hard for people who disagree with you to do so unemotionally. I’m sure you won’t like this comparison, but you could hardly expect African-Americans to talk about the poll tax or anti-miscegenation laws as if they were of purely academic interest.
    Nijma: While I too am troubled by Obama’s waffling on gay rights, I assure you those robocalls (if they existed—as marie-lucie says, they would be easy to fake) were not from Obama’s campaign.
    Can we please stop arguing about politics? Thanks!

  42. marie-lucie says:

    (After reading the transcript) I don’t see how this transcript could be interpreted as Obama telling people to vote one way or another. He is giving his own opinion in response to questioning, not trying to influence the vote on a particular issue which is on the ballot in one state. The fact that the robocall only uses a small part of the recording makes it unlikely that it originates from the Obama side.

  43. I’m sorry, Hat, I wasn’t trying to make this about politics, even though I’m sure my biases about this are pretty clear, and I do come here to get away from all that, but just to set the record straight about Obama’s position on Prop 8,
    M is indeed correct that this was not the official Obama position, although you have to parse his exact words several times to figure that out.
    If you want to hear the exact robocall–and quite a few people on different blogs say they got one–there is a recording here:
    http://www.inlookout.com/2008/11/03/our-first-yes-on-prop-8-robocall/
    They claim to be from Protect Marriage, a group supporting prop 8, and they use a recording of Obama’s voice saying, “marriage is the union between a man and a woman”. etc., but when someone called around trying to find someone who would admit to sponsoring it, everyone denied it was them.
    There is no doubt Obama’s position was taken out of context and used to advance a measure that Obama did not himself support, and that is inexcusable, but in trying to figure out Obama’s exact position, there we enter into murkier waters. He apposes a constitutional amendment. Was prop 8 a constitutional amendment? I don’t know and I’m tired of the whole thing and I’m not going to google it anymore.

  44. Oh, one more thing and then I’m off the subject forever, when Obama says “It’s been a matter of state law”, that is not good. Historically “states rights” has been used as code jargon to deny civil rights, especially voting rights for African Americans. Whoever crafted the language for Obama’s response to that was veeerrry skillful.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    According to what I read, Obama was teaching constitutional law. Surely he knows the difference between “law” and “rights”. And I don’t think he needed anyone to help him “craft” a response to an interviewer.

  46. I hate to burst your bubble marie-lucie but American politicians have teams of speech writers and PR people for exactly that sort of thing. More about Obama’s speech writers here and debate prep coaching here. I once met the head for the late president of Cook County and one of the things she did was prepping him for press conferences with possible questions and answers. Generally you get into a job like that by having a journalism degree.
    the difference between “law” and “rights”
    According to the U.S. constitution, any powers not specifically reserved for the federal governmnet belong to the states. For example Libertarians often claim that the constitution does not allow the federal government to levy taxes (in spite of the clause about providing for the general welfare, not to mention the 16th amendment). Another example is how the southern states at one time prevented former slaves from voting through a series of very restrictive voting requirements they claimed to be able to impose because of “states rights”. The phrase “states right” is now being invoked to argue that individual states can decide to make abortion illegal if they wish. This is the political, not the legal meaning of “states rights”. I have never heard it invoked by anyone who was not a conservative. States’ laws cannot infringe on individual rights, for instance the right to bear arms–those are spelled out in the first ten amendments to the constitution. That’s kind of the American system at a gallop, but maybe it explains a little better to those outside the system.
    The other phrase Obama invoked in his answer was “I believe marriage is the union between a man and a woman”, which of course is the big rallying cry and slogan of the anti-gay marriage crowd. It’s what they put on their bumper stickers.
    Then Obama said he thinks gays should be able to visit their partners in the hospital. Who could argue with that? But he doesn’t address the more controversial questions of insurance coverage or taking leaves of absence to care for sick or disabled partners or military leave. Or whether some chuches that do recognize gay marriage could be prohibited from doing them. “Civil marriage” is mostly a matter of registering a marriage that has already been performed by a member of the clergy according to religious tradition. The thing about marriage being a “sacred union” may also be a buzz phrase for the conservative evangelical crowd. Most mainstream Protestant denominations don’t consider marriage to be a sacrament as Jesus was not known ever to be married, I’m less sure of this but I think Obama’s COC is probably one of those denominations. Anyhow Obama’s answer was chock full of yummy chew toys for conservatives, but the liberals who used to be Obama’s base were left parsing what “those civil rights” might actually refer to.
    American politics is a little like sausage; you don’t really want to know how it’s made.
    And now let’s make Mr. Hat happy by changing the subject.

  47. I appreciate the thoughtful responses here. I just want to point out that the first reference to politics here was a statement ripping the marriage proposals. I was just offering the other side’s view. Only half the country (if that) sees Obama as anything more than a typical politician.
    (No, I do not like the comparison, but that’s a topic for another day.)

  48. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I never said or implied that Maya Angelou’s work was ‘politically correct’.
    ‘Politically correct’ is calling Langston Hughes’s use of the word man ‘male-centric’ and then, without any context or explanation, trying to to contrast it to a Maya Angelou poem called Woman Work, as if some discovery about Hughes’s insensitivity to women were thereby revealed.

  49. calling Langston Hughes’s use of the word man ‘male-centric’ and then, without any context or explanation
    The context and explanation is in all the phrases italics. The conclusions are yours, not mine. I am noticing, for the first time in forty years. You are concluding.

  50. I appreciate the thoughtful responses here. I just want to point out that the first reference to politics here was a statement ripping the marriage proposals. I was just offering the other side’s view.
    Quite right, and I appreciate your civility. It’s very hard to discuss these things, because people on both sides feel passionately that they’re right and the other side is wrong/bad, which is why I try to keep politics off LH. I was aware that posting the poem might lead to a certain amount of politics, but I was willing to take that chance because the poem expressed so well what I felt on what even this cynic can’t help but see as a momentous occasion. Thanks for not getting snarly!

  51. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I am noticing, for the first time in forty years. You are concluding. And you are being disingenuous.

  52. I was willing to take that chance because the poem expressed so well what I felt on what even this cynic can’t help but see as a momentous occasion.
    A difficult point to manage, for a blog focused squarely on language. Most here surely agree: the moment demands to be marked in some way; but a separately drawn majority might still be affronted by some nuance or other, or be tempted to traffic details back and forth. That is simply inevitable.
    Judiciously done, LH.

  53. you are being disingenuous
    Ooooh!
    First I get told what I am thinking, never mind bothering to ask what I’m thinking, and then I get called a liar. What’s with the hostility? It is hostility, isn’t it? I can feel the hostility oozing out of my keyboard.
    So let’s go back to the first “Grrrrrr…” four days ago. Obviously this was not just a crabby day or indigestion, it’s something that is not going away. But what. I could guess. Maybe it is disagreement with the observation that it is male-centric language. Maybe it is shock at the audacity of saying so (why would this be a big deal?) Maybe Hughes is a big sentimental poetic favorite with someone and only hagiography is welcome. Maybe only male-centric points of view are welcome. Maybe male-centric views are considered to be preferable and it’s considered improper to even notice. I could go on and on thinking up reasons, none of them particularly flattering, but since I prefer to be asked what I am thinking, maybe I’ll go first and just ask. After all it’s rather curious when someone who is both gregarious and incredibly verbal is suddenly having a reaction that is clearly emotional, and at the same time not verbalizing anything coherent about it.
    So, hey Kron, what was that growl thingy all about?

  54. Okay, one more time to get the link right: hostility spilling out of keyboard onto Ikea furnishings.

  55. Ah, a world away you are!
    Recently a female friend of mine was spending a few nights in a hotel with a male she fancied. Purely fun, not long term. The second night the local police turned up, hauled them off to the station, confiscated their ID, grilled them, and fined them. The crime (which is still on the books, apparently) is to stay in a hotel room with a person who is not your spouse. She was fined about $200, the male partner was fined $1,000, and incidentally kept in custody for longer than the mandatory 24 hours. His company found out and he lost his job.
    This is China. Gay marriage is so far over the horizon that I can only say that reading the discussions here is like hearing a voice from a different world.

  56. [*ahem*...]
    Scary reading, Bathrobe! It will depend on what part of China, and how big and cosmopolitan the hotel is, ugye?

  57. OK, I’m closin’ this baby up, since it seems to be stuck on growl.

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