Let America Be America Again
(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.”
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,
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!
Summary of Let America Be America Again
- Popularity of “Let America Be America Again”: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, an African American icon in poetic writings, first appeared in Esquire Magazine in 1936. It gained popularity due to its powerful and poignant message about the American Dream and the struggles of marginalized groups in America. What makes this poem unique is the way Hughes intertwines the experiences of different groups of people, including African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, and poor whites, to create a collective narrative of oppression and hope. The way the poem challenges the notion of America as a land of freedom and equality exposes the stark realities of injustice and inequality that continue to persist.
- “Let America Be America Again” As a Representative of Harlem Renaissance: “Let America Be America Again” is a representative poem of the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that emerged in the 1920s and 1930s in the African American community of Harlem, New York. The poem captures the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, which sought to celebrate and promote African American culture and creativity. It also addresses issues of inequality, injustice, and the struggle for civil rights, central concerns of the movement. The poem’s call for America to live up to its ideals and provide equal opportunities for all, regardless of race or social status, reflects the broader goals of the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.
- Major Themes in “Let America Be America Again”: “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes explores several major themes. The poem first highlights the American Dream and the promise of prosperity and opportunity for all. With it, it also reveals the harsh realities of life for those who have been excluded from this promise. Following this, it explores issues of identity and the struggle for recognition and acceptance in a society that often discriminates against those who are different. Additionally, the poem addresses the theme of inequality and the ongoing struggle for social justice and civil rights in America. In short, the poem provides a powerful commentary on the state of America and its promise of freedom and equality, making it a timeless and enduring work of literature along with his strong faith that “We, the people, must redeem.”
Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Let America Be America Again
- Alliteration: It is the repetition of the initial sound in neighboring words or syllables. For example, “Let it be the dream it used to be” (line 2) shows the repetition of the /d/ sound, emphasizing the idea of a lost dream and creating a sense of longing.
- Allusion: It is a reference to a well-known person, place, event, or work of art. For example, “O, let America be America again— / Let it be the dream it used to be” (lines 1-2). The poem alludes to the idea of America as a land of opportunity while also acknowledging that this has not always been the case.
- Anaphora: Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses. “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, / I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars” (lines 19-20) shows the repetition of “I am” emphasizes the shared experiences of different marginalized groups. There are some other examples such as “of (Lines 27, 28, 29), I am (Lines 19, 20, 21, 22), The millions (Lines 54, 55), and And all (Lines 48-49).”
- Assonance: It is the repetition of vowel sounds in neighboring words or syllables. An example of lines “The millions shot down when we strike? / The millions who have nothing for our pay?” (Lines 48-49) shows the repetition of the /e/ and /o/ sounds creating a sense of uncertainty and dissatisfaction.
- Consonance: It is the repetition of consonant sounds in words close to each other. Example of the line “Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain” (line 67) contains consonance with the repeated /s/ and /w/ sounds.
- Hyperbole: It is the exaggeration used to emphasize a point. For example, “America never was America to me” (line 5) emphasizes the poet’s disillusionment with the idea of America as a land of freedom and equality, showing its hyperbolic usage.
- Irony: It is the use of language that signifies the opposite of what is intended, often for humorous or emphatic effect. For example, the line “America was never America to me” (line 5) shows this irony in the contradiction between the poet’s statement and the traditional image of America as a land of opportunity.
- Metaphor: It is a comparison of two things without using “like” or “as.” “Tangled in that ancient endless chain / Of profit, power, gain…” (Lines 26-27) shows the use of a metaphor comparing the struggle of a young man to an endless chain.
- Repetition: It is repeating a word, phrase, or line for emphasis. Example: “Let America be America again” (line 1) shows this repetition of the phrase emphasizing the poet’s desire for America to live up to its ideals.
- Personification: It is an attribution of human qualities to non-human entities. For example, the line “Except the dream that’s almost dead today” (line 61) shows the dream as a personification.
- Simile: It is a comparison of two things using “like” or “as.” The example of “Like the faint, exquisite music of a dream” (line 23) shows the comparison of America to the music of a dream creates a sense of fragility and transience.
Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Let America Be America Again
- Diction: The choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing. In “Let America Be America Again,” Hughes uses simple and direct diction, using words that are easily understood by all, regardless of education level or social class. For example, in line 4, he uses the word “free” to express the idea of personal liberty and self-determination.
- End Rhyme: A rhyme that occurs at the end of two or more lines of poetry. The poem has a consistent end rhyme scheme of ABAB throughout most of the stanzas. For example, “be” and “free” in line 2 and 4, “love” and “above” in line 7 and 9.
- Meter: The rhythm of a poem, often determined by the number and length of syllables in each line. “Let America Be America Again” does not follow a consistent meter but rather has a free verse structure.
- Rhyme Scheme: The pattern of rhyme in a poem. As mentioned earlier, “Let America Be America Again” has an ABAB end rhyme scheme throughout most of the poem.
- Poem Type: The poem is a lyric poem that expresses the poet’s thoughts and feelings.
- Stanza: The poem is divided into several stanzas, each with varying numbers of lines. The first stanza has four lines, the second and third have eight lines, the fourth has six lines and with a single line interspersed between them.
- Tone: The tone of the poem is one of hope and determination, despite the difficulties and injustices faced by marginalized groups in America. Hughes expresses a desire for America to live up to its ideals of equality and freedom for all and to become a place where every person can thrive.
Quotes to be Used
This quote can be used in a speech or written piece about the American Dream, equality, and social justice. It is particularly relevant when discussing the ongoing struggle for civil rights and the need for America to live up to its ideals of freedom and equality for all.
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.