Saturday, January 21, 2017

Langston Hughes said it first: Make America (great) again!

e.e. cummings said it best for, and on behalf of, people like me::

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water


And here is "Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes

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.

(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."

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,
America!

O, yes,
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!                          

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Perhaps its time to muse on the place of America in the world, and therefore the place of different forms of societies.

For long American values and the way of life was the leading, and aspired for, dream. A place of freedom, a place of opportunity, of individual right.

All of that is still mostly true, but the events of the last year has brought home starkly the dark underbelly. Racism, gun violence and bigotry is unfortunately there. The UK is very similar.

Continental Europe presents a different model. Freedom and liberty yes, but a much greater social element at the expense of individualism. Stark in Scandinavia, much less in Southern Europe. Less economic opportunity however, with the exception of Germany.

Russia presents a kleptocracy, thuggery, dodgy economics, but stability and order which could have easily gone otherwise.

China displays incredible economic progress, complete stability and order, a working executive, but loss of individual freedom, extreme corruption and political repression.

India has seen quite good economic progress, perhaps has the highest opportunity and fair degrees of freedom, but also sees appalling quality of life, and very little that works.

Africa, a continent of immense opportunity, much greater peace and stability, a very young workforce, bedeviled by incredible corruption, tribalism, and non working governments.

Take your pick.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, trump's victory has dramatically changed the trajectory that we thought led us to a wonderful future. The certainty of the triumph of liberal democracy it turns out was a mere assumption on our part. Instead of that triumph, in the US we have the exposed dark underbelly of white supremacy and hatred. (Gun violence, while an atrocious aspect, is not new and has been on a decreasing trend for two decades now.)

And, yes, as you have listed, the rest of the world has its own variations of problems with the human condition.

We have no choice but to play the long game, to live towards that long arc of history. Without that hope of the betterment of the human condition over a longer-time frame, our daily lives will become meaningless.

I will still pick the US. The Women's March yesterday was absolutely promising. In fact, the global response was simply beyond my wildest imagination. We shall overcome this orange monster, too. I wish the damn Republican voters had not cast their ballots for him. Well, they will be judged forever.

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