Thursday, April 16, 2020

Dream Variations by Langston Hughes—National Poetry Month 2020

Langston Hughes by Winold Reiss.

A few days ago I shared verses from some of the readers who were on tap to appear in the Poets In Resistance II program at Tree of Life U.U. Congregation in McHenry, Illinois on March 13 before it fell victim to Coronavirus cancelation.  But that wasn’t the only big event at Tree of Life that I was involved in that was postponed.  Our Social Justice Team had been working for two month on a special Sunday morning service for the Ides of March.  The Promise and Practice of Our Faith was based on materials developed by Black Lives UU which all spoke directly in Black voices, albeit read by members of our White congregation.  The service that Sunday had to be scrubbed as we heeded the call of Unitarian Universalist Association President Susan Frederick-Gray to suspend worship services and meetings at our church buildings—the first U.S. denomination to make that call.  
The service was pushed back one week and became the first worship service we conducted using Zoom technology.  Of course we had to adapt our plans and somewhat truncate the program to allow time for our congregational leadership to discuss the new situation and familiarize worshipers with what for many was new and bewildering technology.

That is My Dream, based on Langston Hughes's poem Dream Variations illustrated by Daniel Miyares.
Alas, one of the things we had to cut was the children’s story from  That Is My Dream! a picture book of Langston Hughes’s poem Dream Variations.  That’s too bad.
Hughes is widely regarded not only as the premier literary voice of the Harlem Renaissance but America’s greatest African American poet and a peer of the likes of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg.  He captured the street life and jazz rhythms of his adopted city, spoke directly to his people, and offered them comfort and hope.  As his fame spread and he attracted White readers he also boldly laid out his grievances in work like Let America Be America Again, I, Too, Sing America, Harlem, and Brotherly Love which was inspired by the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Aaron Douglas's painting captures the vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance in which Langston Hughes was a central figure.
Before he died in New York City in 1967 at the age of 61, Hughes had mentored generations of young writers and afterwards inspired new ones.
He began speaking of a young boy.

Dream Variations

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me—
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.

Langston Hughes

In a related short poem, Hughes offered a warning as well as hope


Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes

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