As we continue our celebration of National Poetry Month, I remind us all that not everything in poetry needs to be heavy business. For example, here’s a poem by American writer Langston Hughes, a man known largely for his poetry that deals frankly with the Afro-American experience, and this poem of his was published in a magazine founded by W. E. B. Du Bois during the famed Harlem Renaissance.
But wait, not only is this a poem about springtime, it’s a children’s poem written for Du Bois’ children’s magazine The Brownies’ Book. I first learned about this pioneering publication for Afro-American children at the My Life 100 Years Ago blog, which among other things often covers what was happening with magazines of that era.
Hughes himself wrote today’s poem when he was a teenager, and The Brownies’ Book was the first publication to publish his poetry. “April Rain Song” is a charming poem, and in rhythm and poetic tactics it reminds me of Carl Sandburg, a fellow Midwesterner whose writing influenced the young Hughes. Here’s a link to the text of Hughes’ poem if you want to follow along.
Check out the high school graduate in far right middle row. Yup, that’s Langston Hughes.
It’s been April rainy the past two days in my city, so working on making “April Rain Song” a Parlando Project piece had overcast and setting. Hughes here shows me a mode I sometimes aim for: it’s a nature poem, but specifically set in a city, not in some rural nature. The rain meets sidewalks and street-gutters, not some Eden.
Rain, specifically spring rain, has a strong memory element for me. Perhaps you share this? Outside in rain I’ll often recall other wet spring days, watching from the current distance my child-self walking beside miniature gutter rivers, observing for no particular reason their sweep around last years’ leaves and last winter’s final dusky ice clumps. Or perhaps you recall a particular roof on which fell our general rain? Was Langston Hughes too young yet to have that experience of memory when he wrote this poem? I cannot say, but I have that now, and so I add a bit of wistfulness to his words today.
The player gadget to hear my performance of Hughes’ “April Rain Song” is below for many of you, but if you don’t have it, this highlighted hyperlink will also play the song I made of it.