Aesthete in Harlem

By Langston Hughes

1 Strange,

2 That in this nigger place,

3 I should meet Life face to face

4 When for years, I had been seeking

5 Life in places gentler speaking

6 Until I came to this near street

7 And found Life---stepping on my feet!



By Noah Levin and Brian Mechanick

If you say it aloud. Strange goes with the second line keeping the rhyme scheme. Also, there is a rhythm in the AA, BB rhyme scheme, with each line being alike with beat and syllables . The rhyming scheme follows a pattern of aa, bb, cc. The AA BB Rhyme scheme and rhythm show the repetition in the author's life.
The first line is used as a intro to stand out but i believe that this poem has something to do with oppression, and coming to the realization that the person may have been dreaming, or in some far better place, when the author writes the words face to face, it is like looking in a mirror, someone who has never been there before is able to relate and make sense of all this, when the author writes, about going to that specific street, and finds life stepping on his feet, i think he is kind of blindsided, or overwhelmed by the situation, he relates to this place so much and now all of these "things" are brought in to the light, or perspective, he realizes the important things in life the author has been seeking for this place or state of mind for a long time, and has stumbled upon it, but this is the truest place for him. even thoug it was by accident it has shed the most light on the situation.
Langston Hughes is speaking of Harlem as if it were a safe-haven for all blacks. Langston had rediscovered himself there. Harlem as we all know was a place of artistic and expressive freedom, many great black authors and musicians and painters got their starts from there, here was the realest place to Langston even though he had never been there before. Langston Hughes was a great thinker, as well as a writer, he distances himself from everybody else in the poem, by using i, and describing his personal experiences, but it can relate to anyone because of the message, that he was in a strange new world, unsure at first, searching for answers, and it blindsided him, he had neglected the truth that was right in front of him.

The poem's true meaning I feel means reaching enlightenment and self-awareness, rising above the lack of significance of the world that surrounds him. I feel this poem is truly the essential basis for the Harlem Renaissance. The Renaissance was all about awakening to a rebirth of knowledge and expression. Hughes is talking about this for himself. In the last line, when he says that life is "stepping on my feet", I feel he is saying how he discovered the Harlem Renaissance. It was not some foreign idea, but something that had been around him his entire life, but he hadn't realized it. He puts himself ahead and seperate, as stated above, by calling him the metaphorical "eagle surround by turkeys." He has learned the truth, although everyone around him hasn't, hence calling them a derogatory term in line 2. The poem is really a call to action for all African-Americans of his time. He is telling them to awaken to see what is really going on around them, enlighten themselves, so that they can find the real "life", which is not far away, but "stepping on [their] feet!"

Title: The title Aesthete in Harlem, paints a picture with words, aesthete means beautiful and pleasing to the eyes, Langston Hughes is describing Harlem as the way he sees it, it was the artistic mecca of its time, it provided hundreds of black people with an opportunity to express themselves, and be heard, Langston is implying that without this rebirth he may never have been discovered. he is very appreciate of Harlem, it is his roots.

Line 1: Strange is a word used to describe an unknown feeling, as if you are in a different world, out of place, different, this sets up as readers to realize where the author is coming from, and how he feels, he is unsure, unaware, he shows us his weakness, that he is vulnerable, he is human, these new surroundings of Harlem, he must learn the way again. By having strange stand alone, Hughes is putting himself alone in the poem.

Line 2: Langston Hughes uses the word nigger, because he is portraying the stereotypical bad place, shows the writer's disdain for the place, and derogatory word, but he is really saying that in this place of my people, he is making connection with his race, and the people of the city, they are his family now, he has been in white places, places that were supposed to be good, righteous, he has been searching inn all the wrong places, and when he finally arrives at the nigger place, he can relate, he meets life face to face symbolically, he sees the meaning of his life face to face, he is blindsided by it.

Line 3: The line, "meet life face to face," I feel is talking about how the writer has not truly been living. He has only been floating through life, not actively taking a role in his world and the lives of those who surround him. This is further said when he talks about living in places gentler speaking. This line says how nothing substantial is going on there, only lighter, less important things.

Lines 4 - 5: Langston Hughes is describing his tribulations, by saying of his journey down the wrong path, he was lost, and confused, the answers were supposed to be in better places, in gentler speaking, but he found it in the exact opposite of places, Harlem

Lines 6 - 7: in the last two lines of the poem, he sums up his journey, and realizes that everything he thought was wrong, he found his answers on this street, in this city, in the rebirth, and it has a harsh realization, it forced him to act

Biography of Langston Hughes:

Early Life:
James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902 to parents Carrie and James. Hughes was related to John Mercer Langston who was the first Black African American to be elected into public office in 1855. He was a member of an abolitionist family. When he was still a small child, Langston's father James, left for Mexico because of the racism he endured in the United States. As his mother refused to accompany James to Mexico their marriage dissolved and Carrie sought unemployment. It was at this point when Langston moved in to live with his grandmother, Mary Langston. Langston Hughes spent the majority of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas with his grandmother who is cited to be a major influence on his life.

After her death in 1915, young Langston temporarily moved in with friends of his grandmothers. At the end of 1915, Langston rejoined his mother, who he had frequently visited during his time with his grandmother, and her new husband. Initially living in Lincoln, Illinois, the family soon moved to Cleveland. Langston Hughes attended Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, but he first began writing poetry when he was in eighth grade. His father thought that Langston could not pursue a career in poetry so he encouraged him to have a more practical career. Hughes attended Columbia University studying engineering. He later dropped out because he was not interested in becoming an engineer and he decided to pursue his love of poetry. - Josh Millan

Later Life:
After Langston Hughes dropped out of college he had to support his mother who had moved to Harlem. Hughes was poor and found it hard to support himself let alone his mother. He published a few poems but none made it very big. Hughes was forced to sign on a merchant freighter around the year of 1923. He would be a cabin boy on a ship that was going to West Africa. For the next two years, Hughes lived his life in poverty in Europe. He lived in France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

In 1925 He returned to the United States of America to live with his mother in Washington D.C. Again, Hughes worked a variety of odd jobs just to get by. This time, however, while he was working he published more and more poetry. As he learned many different things from being in Europe for so long, Hugh’s rhythms were very similar to the jazz compositions he had heard in Paris Night Clubs. Hughes was currently a busboy at a hotel when a poet by the name of Vachel Lindsay found his poems and read them to an audience. She announced that she had found a great black poet. In no time many people approached Hughes for more of his compositions.

In 1926 Hughes published his first book, The Weary Blues The Weary Blues. This book was a group of poems that represented Harlem nightlife. Some people loved the book while others were against it. Often the issue of the book being too reliant on Negro themes came up. This scared some people away. Hughes then went to Lincoln University to learn and continue writing. In 1927 Hughes produced Fine Clothes to the JewFine Clothes to the Jew (1927). After this was produced many black critics said that Hughes emphasized way too much on the lower class and the type of activities on the street. Many blacks believed that this was not the way to achieve peace. Mrs. R. Osgood Mason, however, took up his way of expressing problems through literature and presented an argument for Hughes. Hughes went on to write more and more poetry along with novels, short stories, non-fiction, juvenile, and edited different combined works.

Through the 1960’s Hughes strongly backed the civil rights movements. He rendered an imaginary South where Martin Luther King Jr. is elected governor of Georgia while Orval Faubas, the Arkansas governor, becomes a mammy in charge of rearing black kids. Finally, Hughes’s career came to a halt with is final collection published in 1967: The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times.The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times. As Hughes commented on his career of art he stated: “I didn't know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren't people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too."
-Will Carabasi

Political Views of Langston Hughes:
Langston Hughes was a firm believer in Communism because it stood as the opposition of Segregation. He believed that America's vision of equality would only be achieved through the implementation of socialism into the government. His poem "A New Song" demonstrated these views. Because of his stance, Hughes was a firm supporter of the Soviet Union and believed it represented hope being that there was no racism or economic division. In 1932, Hughes toured the Soviet Union along with a group of writers in aspiration to create a documentary. Langston Hughes was always accused of harsh Communist political views, which was a radical thing of the time, but denied it whenever asked. This led to Hughes being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and after that meeting he stayed away from writing about the Communist Party. -Will Carabasi and brief editing by Andrew Cerami

Complete List of Works:
Will Carabasi, Noah Levin, Josh Millan

· The Weary Blues, 1926.
· Fine Clothes to the Jew, 1927.
· The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations, Golden Stair Press, 1931.
· Dear Lovely Death, Troutbeck Press, 1931.
· The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, 1932.
· Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play, Golden Stair Press, 1932.
· A New Song, International Workers Order, 1938.
· (With Robert Glenn) Shakespeare in Harlem, 1942.
· Jim Crow's Last Stand, Negro Publication Society of America, 1943.
· Freedom's Plow, Musette Publishers, 1943.
· Lament for Dark Peoples and Other Poems, Holland, 1944.
· Fields of Wonder, 1947.
· One-Way Ticket, 1949.
· Montage of a Dream Deferred, Holt, 1951.
· Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, 1961.
· The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times, 1967, reprinted, Vintage Books, 1992.
· The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Knopf (New York City), 1994.
· The Block: Poems, Viking (New York City), 1995.
· Carol of the Brown King: Poems, Atheneum Books (New York City), 1997.
· The Pastebaord Bandit, Oxford University Press (New York City), 1997.

· Not Without Laughter, Knopf, 1930, reprinted, Macmillan, 1986.
· Tambourines to Glory, John Day, 1958, reprinted, Hill & Wang, 1970.

Short Stories:
· The Ways of White Folks, Knopf, 1934, reprinted, Random House, 1971.
· Simple Speaks His Mind, Simon & Schuster, 1950.
· Laughing to Keep from Crying, Holt, 1952.
· Simple Takes a Wife, Simon & Schuster, 1953.
· Simple Stakes a Claim, Rinehart, 1957.
· Something in Common and Other Stories, Hill & Wang, 1963.
· Simple's Uncle Sam, Hill & Wang, 1965.
· The Return of Simple Hill & Wang, 1994.
· Short Stories of Langston Hughes, Hill and Wang (New York City), 1996.

· The Big Sea: An Autobiography, Knopf, 1940 reprinted, Thunder's Mouth, 1986.
· I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey, Rinehart, 1956, reprinted, Thunder's Mouth, 1986.

· A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia, Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the U.S.S.R., 1934.
(With Roy De Carava) The Sweet Flypaper of Life, Simon & Schuster, 1955, reprinted, Howard University Press, 1985.
· (With Milton Meltzer) A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, Crown, 1956, 4th edition published as A Pictorial History of Black Americans, 1973, 6th edition · published as A Pictorial History of African Americans, 1995.
· Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP, Norton, 1962.
(With Meltzer) Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment, Prentice-Hall, 1967.
· Black Misery, Paul S. Erickson, 1969, reprinted, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Publication of Text:
"Aesthete in Harlem" is part of the poetry compilation Dear Lovely Death, which was published in 1931 by Troutbeck Press in Amenia, New York. Dear Lovely Death is a collection of song lyrics in which an overriding somber theme is present. It was written in response to the social and political issues of the times such as the strong rascism that was prevelant as well as the Depression.
-Andrew Cerami

Literary Criticism (poet/ poem):
Langston Hughes' works primarily focus on the "urban experience of working-class blacks" in America. Coming from poverty during the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes both observed and experienced this working class lifestyle and incorporated it into his works. Throughout the course of his career, however, two opposing viewpoints of his writing content emerged. From one viewpoint, critics admired Hughes’ great ability to portray the typical experiences of African Americans from the working class. From the opposing viewpoint, many blacks argued that by associating their race with a lower-class lifestyle, Hughes was only adding to the poor image of them at the time. 1:-John Going

Criticism Written by Troy Iskarpatyoti
Langston Hughes was one of the most inspirational and popular figures during the Harlem Renaissance. He devoted his career to portraying the urban experience of working-class blacks. Although he was considered a poet, he was highly praised for founding the Harlem Renaissance Theater. In his works, he combined urban dialogue, folklore style idioms, and a thematic emphasis on the dignity and strength of black Americans.

Although he increasingly spread black culture and beliefs, Hughes was commonly attacked by some blacks because they felt that he failed to address some of the controversial issues that existed in black culture. Many blacks denounced his work as portraying the unsophisticated side of lower-class life. They believed that Hughes only looked at the bad side of his race. Hughes on the other hand believed that the true value of the common black culture needed to be portrayed truthfully even if it is by emphasizing the hardships that blacks had to endure. Furthermore, they felt that he downgraded their culture portrayed the hardships of their culture way to fiercely. For instance, according to a critic by the name of Filatova, Hughes "almost ignores the question of racial oppression." For most blacks in this time period, reading his poems were not inspirational one bit, instead they just reminded them the hard times that they were living in. Another complaint was his radical belief that questioned whether or not he believed in god. This strongly hurt Hughes's reputation as a poet and it disallowed many strong religious groups to forgo interest in Hughes's work.

Criticism Written by Damien Sango
Langston Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during a period known as the "Harlem Renaissance" which took place in the 1920's. Hughes’s work emphasizes on the black working class people around him of the time, however, many black intellectuals criticize Hughes’s works because they believed he displayed an unattractive view of black life However, in Hughes’s own words his poetry portrays, "workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenos Avenue in New York, or 7th street in Washington or South State in Chicago - - people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be whole beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter - - and pawning that suit before the 4th of July." Nevertheless, Hughes, more than any other black poet or writer of the time, recorded honestly the differences in black life and it's frustrations.

What's your opinion on this poem?

Noah Levin –
I personally loved this poem, it depicts a story, that speaks to us all, everyone is searching for something, and when you find it, it either meets and exceeds your expectations, crushes your hopes and dreams, or it forces you to realize, and act, in this case Langston Hughes was searching, and he did not find Harlem, Harlem found him.

Troy Iskar –
In my opinion, I think this poem is very captivating. At first I didn't really understood it's true meaning. However after I read it to myself several times after, I started to realize the purity and expression that came out of it. The only thing I dislike about it was it's pessimistic belief and emphasizes on dreams never being fulfilled. However, all in all, I really enjoy Langston Hughes's style of writing. He does a great job of using metaphors and other ways of expression to express themes and emotions. Through the interpretations of his culture, I feel that I have gained a better feel for his culture and of that time period.

Brian Mechanick-
I think it is an awesome poem. I enjoyed how it is at a glance a simple poem, but if you look at it carefully, it carries a deep message of finding meaning and importance in life and not just letting life pass you by. Hughes makes a great call to arms and inspires all.

Will Carabasi-
I would have to agree with my fellow peers that this was a great poem. At first glance I thought that this would just be a short simple moral but after reading it I realized what it was all about. This poem covers lifetimes. It carries such a huge message about not letting life pass you by. I can see how poems like these could possibly be controversial in a racist society, but I can also see it doing so well in other societies.

Josh Millan-
I think that this poem is important because it shows the culture in the black community. In this poem Langston Hughes portrays the culture within the streets of Harlem. The speaker thought that culture was only found in libraries, universities, or places away from the street where intellectual people talked, but he learns that culture can be found anywhere, but specifically the streets of Harlem. Furthermore, this poem is important because it was new to this era and it discussed ideas that were not valued, such as respect for blacks and their intellegence.

Damien Sango -
One thing is a fact, When Hughe's wrote about black life at the time, he would be fully honest about it. For somebody to write about their own race the way Hughe's did took great courage from his part. Hughe's was often criticized by black critics because they believed he only portrayed the bad side of black life in his writing , nevertheless Hughe's kept writing and was able to look away from the discrimination and write about the life he found within his own community. This can be seen in his poem Aesthete in Harlem. I appreciate this poem because of the fact that it is only 7 lines and brings out a great message, a message stating that when life turns hard on you, there will always be times of joy. This message can be parallelled to the times when a black man tries succeeding in a white mans world. Hughes puts an extremely important message in only 7 lines, a casual manner, and a rythmin flow - that is why he is one of the leading figures during the Harlem Renaissance.

Where did mine go?------------- John Going

Works Cited:

  • World Literature Criticism "Langston Hughes," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 51: Afro-American Writers from the Harlem Renaissance to 1940. A Bruccoli

  • Clark Layman Book. --Edited by Trudier Harris, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Gale Group, 1987, pp. 112-133.