Sunday Poetry: As Befits a Man, by Langston Hughes

As Befits a Man

I don’t mind dying—
But I’d hate to die all alone!
I want a dozen pretty women
To holler, cry, and moan.

I don’t mind dying
But I want my funeral to be fine:
A row of long tall mamas
Fainting, Fanning, and crying.

I want a fish-tail hearse
And sixteen fish-tail cars,
A big brass band
And a whole truck load of flowers.

When they let me down,
Down into the clay,
I want the women to holler:
Please don’t take him away!
Ow-ooo-oo-o!
Please don’t take daddy away!

– by Langston Hughes
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Langston Hughes has been abused by English teachers and well-meaning anthologists. The charming Missourian has been forced into a glowering, angry poet of revolution. It’s not that he did not have a glowering side – as amply demonstrated in several of his poems – but he also had a funny, warm side, that gets shoved to the side as students are forced to confront “Dream Deferred” and “I, Too“. They’re both important poems, of course, but they lead to a narrower vision of the man than justice would allow.

Update: In searching for more Langston Hughes for my Sunday morning, I happened across this head-shaking story about an English teacher insisting that a student read a Langston Hughes poem in a “blacker” style.

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