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A Black Poet Langston Hughes Speaks

Updated on March 6, 2011

James Mercer Langston Hughes

(February 1,1902 - May 22,1967)




Arms elbow deep in white suds,

Soul washed clean,

Clothes washed clean,

I have many songs to sing you

Could I find but the words.


Was it four o'clock or six o'clock on a winter afternoon,

I saw you wringing out the last shirt in Miss White

Lady's kitchen? Was it four o'clock or six o'clock?

I don't remember.


But I know, at seven one spring morning you were on

Vermont street with a bundle in your arms going to

wash clothes.


And I know I've seen you in the New York subway in

the late afternoon coming home from washing clothes.


Yes, I know you, wash-woman.


I know how you send your children to school, and

high school and even college.

I know how you work to help your man even when times

are hard.

I know how you build your house up from the washtub

and call it home.

And how you raise your churches from white suds for

the service of the Holy God.


I've seen you singing, wash-woman. Out in the backyard

garden under the apple trees, singing, hanging

white clothes on long lines in the sunshine.

And I've seen you in church on Sunday morning singing,

praising your Jesus because someday you're

going to sit on the right hand side of the Son of God

And forget you ever were a wash-woman.

And the aching back and the bundles of clothes will be

unremembered then.


Yes, I've seen you singing.


So for you,

O singing wash-woman,

For you, singing little brown woman,

Singing strong black woman,

Singing tall yellow woman,

Arms deep in white suds,

Soul washed clean,

Clothes washed clean,

For you I have

Many songs to sing

Could I but find the words.

                                                  Langston Hughes



Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.


Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

                            Langston Hughes



WELL, son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor--


But all the time

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark

Where there ain't been no light.

So. boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps

'Cause you finds it kinder hard.

Don't you fall now--

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin',

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

                                                  Langston Hughes


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