Mr. Hughes And “Lieder”

Of all the readings so far, I have enjoyed Langston Hughes the most. I grew up with a copy of “I wonder as I wander” flouting around my house and ever since I read that beautiful title I have been intrigued by Mr. Hughes.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased to learn that we would be reading him. Once I read the poems that were assigned last week, I was not disappointed. His satirical poem Cultural Exchange stood out to me in particular. He makes references to how in the ghetto, in which black people are essentially forced by poverty to live, the doors are as thin as paper “where the doors are doors of paper” p.89), leaving them hardly any privacy.

Additionally, he refers to a German song style heard in the ghetto (p.91) known as “lieder” (p.91). This is a strange reference I thought, considering the subject of the poem (the black ghetto). Yet, upon further exploration, I believe that he did this intentionally, exploring how despite being ostracized the black community still demonstrates America values by embracing and incorporating something from another nation, America being known as the “melting pot” and all.


2 Replies to “Mr. Hughes And “Lieder””

  1. Satire is a key word here, and in class we’ll think about to what end Hughes is creating satire. “Cultural exchange” is something we’re definitely seeing called into question in Snead (and Tolson); Hughes’ amps that up here.

    There’s a long and complex history to the term “ghetto,” and this NPR piece sums that up quite nicely (scroll about half way down for uses by Busta Rhymes and hesitations over its prejudiced connotations):

    Hughes’s own term is “quarter,” and that’s something to use instead, not only to avoid, as critic Ta-Nehisi Coates has pointed out, the fact that “ghetto” is used to name “people you don’t know” but because using the text’s terms lets us understand their nuances: quarter as in money, quarter as in not whole, quarter as in having to give quarter (surrender)…

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