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Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes

 

 
Editor's Note from Tomasz Czepaitis: This poem have moved me in three ways. First, it's mother's words to son. Connection between mother and son is very important, deep on physical and psychical levels, and always unique. It is a kind of inner guidance, which psychologists or son's family can imitate only. That's why bad connection between them hurts so deeply and demands substitutes and conform.

Second - the myth of the Crystal... Hill, Ship, here - Stairs. Crystal means Essence, and Climbing in this poem gives the Heavenly direction to the Top (of Life, Success, Love etc.), versus the myth of the Path, Road, Journey (of Life, Success, Love etc.) by a "flat" surface. It includes perseverance, clinging to smth., reaching smth.

And, third, - the language, street, "pop" language which doesn't contradict with the warmness and caring advice of mother's words. In Poetry Therapy people, surviving from some abuse, dependence, trauma, depression are encouraged to speak in "their own" language, language of their district, social group, or even the language of the childhood: this is much more effective than trying to express yourself in Standard English and adds a genuine intonation. You are telling your own, not someone's  story.
 
Opposite of this persevering climbing is falling down from the stairs - being thrown out (of life? work? love?)...but - climb, climb, climb. Climb crawling. And don't look down.


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 --
Bare.
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's 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.

 

 

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About the Poet


James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "the negro was in vogue" which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue".

 

While in grammar school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. Hughes stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm."I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet."
   
He wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry, operas, essays, and works for children. With the encouragement of his best friend and writer, Arna Bontemps, and patron and friend, Carl Van Vechten, he wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander, as well as translating several works of literature into English.

 




 

 

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