Category: Review
Langston Hughes and Robert Frost

American literary Modernism is one of the most prominent eras in the development of literature. It emerged as a response to the drastic changes in the society and in the whole world in general. As a result, there emerged new writers who approached literature in the unexpected ways, experimented with it, and gave it interesting forms. The poets of the period between the two World Wars have given the readers an extremely valuable gift that is still relevant today. What is important to note is that even within this period the literature in general, and poetry specifically, differs a lot. Multiple themes, structures, and forms were explored by the poets. Two of the prominent authors of that time are Langston Hughes and Robert Frost. Comparing these two poets may not seem self-evident. At first glance these authors do not have much in common. However, despite some differences in backgrounds and literature, Frost and Hughes have a deep connection with their native country, and their poetry shows the true greatness of being an American.

In the poems of Robert Frost one can find many interesting points to discuss. A big part of his poems deals with the choices the humans are faced with. This theme is of paramount importance because it transcends the generations and stays relevant to the readers of different ages. Frost is considered to be an important figure in the literary world. His four Pulitzer Prizes are well-deserved as his literature really goes beyond one generation of the readers. The major themes of his poetry include the questions of human existence and choices that common people face everyday. One of the great poems of Frost is “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The poem is rather short, only four stanzas, but analyzing it one can find many things to consider. On the surface of it, the narrator is talking about stopping alone in the woods some time in winter. This is quite strange, and even the horse is nervous in the dark. At the end, the person decides to move on before resting in these woods.

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The imagery of the poem is remarkable. One can easily envision the woods – silent, serene, and secluded – despite of the lack of extensive descriptions. The narrative power of Frost’s poems has to be noted separately. The poet has an incredible ability to let the reader see the imaginary world quite vividly. Frost uses multiple methods to draw the readers in. These are the direct tone, first person narrative, use of dialogues, easy and understandable language. This is important because it explains why Robert Frost’s books have had so much influence on common people and future poets as well. He speaks directly to the reader, accepts the audience as his equal, as his partner in the conversation. This easy style creates an intimate connection between the writer and the reader. There is no wonder why the poems of this writer appeal to a wide audience.

Returning back to “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the poem can be interpreted in many different ways. Some will only see the literal meaning while others will dig deeper and discover the hidden messages. One interpretation that is hard to avoid is the image of death and life. The woods represent eternal peace and unity with nature. The words like “frozen lake” and “easy wind and downy flake” demonstrate the quietness and a sort of absence of time. The narrator is longing to stay there and rest but he hears the bells of the horse and seems to be shaken back into reality. He acknowledges that this place is wonderful but he has other commitments so far. The last line, “And miles to go before I sleep”, is repeated twice and shows the decision to continue living and struggling with life rather than giving up. The poem is reassuring and motivational. While the narrator acknowledges the appealing nature of rest and eternal peace he is propagating life and movement despite the probable difficulties along the way. Taking into account the time that the poem was written, a couple of years after World War I, it sends a powerful message of perseverance and continuous fight for life.

A similar reassurance can be found in the poetry of Langston Hughes. This poet, however, is more direct in his statements and expressions. For instance, the poem “I, Too” is a powerful example of how Hughes dedicates himself to the fight for equal rights of African Americans. Examining the form of the poem, one can notice that it is quite different from Frost’s poem. This one conforms to the Modernist style more. The lines are broken and split up in seemingly random places. Stanzas are of different length. This structure, however, effectively conveys the meaning of the poem and lets the reader see the emphases in a clearer way. The poem has a sort of sandwich structure, where the main body of the work is put between two very similar lines – “I, too, sing America” at the beginning and “I, too, am America” at the end of the poem. Even these two short lines show the audience how emotional the narrator is about the given issue.

Moving from structure to content it is plain that the poem is future oriented, like the one written by Robert Frost. Langston Hughes is looking forward, and it is perfectly evident in every line. He starts from the present day, describing the inequalities Negroes face. But all this mistreatment seems to go unnoticed by the narrator. “But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong”. He looks forward to a brighter future when the situation will change and those people who are cruel will be proud to keep his company. One of the stanzas starts with the on-word line “Tomorrow”. This is hardly random; instead, the author has most likely deliberately separated this word into the whole line to emphasize that the main events are still to come.

This poem can be applied to many situations in one’s life. Moreover, the poem in general can be a major source of inspiration for many people. Life is known to be changeable and capricious; and it is always good to remember that things may always change for the best. Hughes reminds the readers about this with every line he writes. Despite the repressions, the insecurities of that time, and the lack of prospects for happy future the poet still remains hopeful.

Taking into account the life and work of Langston Hughes, one cannot but mention his great role in the so-called Harlem Renaissance. His poems were greatly influential and have earned deep respect of the people reading his works and the critics analyzing them. The movement of Harlem Renaissance can be called one of the turning points of that time. The dynamics of the African American struggle changed with the emergence of new literature that inspired more resistance and raised the spirits of people. Some of the critical writers, like Mike Chasar, noted the significance of the black laughter in the works of the poet. As it was mentioned before, laughter does have a role in the poem “I, Too”, as in other poems written by Hughes. So, the poet played an important role in the struggle of African Americans for their proper place in the American society. With his uniquely strong and motivational poems people have gained more strength and desire to continue fighting for a better life.

The poems “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “I, Too”, like other works of Robert Frost and Langston Hughes, share not only the reassurance of life but also the perspective that they are written from. Both poets choose to write using the first person perspective. The narrator basically discloses the thoughts he/she has in his/her mind. Such honesty creates a feeling that the reader was immersed in some secret, in some idea that is not necessarily supposed to be shared with the wider society. The paradox is that it is indeed shared with everybody who is willing to take up the book.

It would be also helpful to take a look at another poem written by Robert Frost, which is called “Mending Wall.” Here the poet discusses the relationships among people and the lack of logic or common sense behind some of the actions taken by them. The narrator cannot understand why they keep mending the wall year after year even in places where it is not necessary. “My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him”. Essentially, the character is trying to explain that the wall between the neighbors in not necessary and just takes extra work.

This wall that they are mending in the poem is a physical one. However, how often do we build walls around ourselves without any logical reason? Perhaps the poem is partially meant for the readers to remember that emotional walls may be as damaging as the real ones. Robert Frost keeps proving his point by saying “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”. Therefore, one is let to believe that if nature itself keeps destroying the wall, the humans have no reason for creating it artificially. The same notion can be applied to the relationship among different racial groups. Even though Frost did not specifically talk about racial discrimination in the United States, this poem might as well be written by Hughes. For that matter, the poem may fit into the thematic range of another poet. Indeed, it seems ridiculous to build walls between different racial groups coexisting in the U.S. instead of building roads to each other. In this way, despite the apparent differences between the two writers, they do share one great desire – a burning desire for unity and peaceful life together in one great country.

There is one major difference between these two given poets that is worth discussing. Looking at the poem of Robert Frost one can notice that the majority of them are concerned with the individual choice each person has to make to themselves. As an example, in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" the narrator states that “I have promises to keep”. The line emphasizes that this is about an individual making a decision about life. The decision will surely influence other people, maybe even the society, but essentially it narrows down to a person and his/her inner world. Moreover, the mood of the poem is calm, balances, and peaceful.

On the other hand, the poem “I, Too” by Hughes focuses more on the collective struggle. It is evidently more aggressive. The poem is saturated with such emotions as anger, determination, and stubbornness. His poem has nothing to do with individual choice, it is more of an obligation that a group of people has for one another. Further, there is a division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ At one point he narrator says “They’ll see how beautiful I am / And be ashamed”. There is an implication that one day there might be a new society that would not need this division anymore.

With the help of the aforementioned analysis, one is able to see that the Modernist era in the American literature was marked by interesting and unpredicted trends and a wealth of ideas. The authors were using new approaches to literature that stayed important throughout the decades and had a considerable influence on the future literary. Langston Hughes and Robert Frost are two representatives of that period that differ in some aspect of their literature but share some important similarities as well. These two authors usually used different structure of the poems and had different backgrounds. This did not, however, impede the similarities in the emotional baggage that their poems carry. The readers can plainly see the poets’ concern for the future of the United States and the desire to take part in the forming of a great nation. Hughes is known for the racial themes in his poetry while Frost focuses a lot on everlasting questions of human existence. Together, these two figures in American literature create an impact that is likely to last for many years to come.

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