Love poems, Blues poems – from The Harlem Renaissance

ZP_Dance_by Aaron Douglas

ZP_Dance_by Aaron Douglas 1899-1979

Love poems, Blues poems – from The Harlem Renaissance:

Langston Hughes verses composed between 1924 and 1930:

.     .     .

“Subway Face”


That I have been looking

For you all my life

Does not matter to you.

You do not know.


You never knew.

Nor did I.

Now you take the Harlem train uptown;

I take a local down.


.     .     .

“Poem (2)” (To F. S.)


I loved my friend.

He went away from me.

There’s nothing more to say.

The poem ends,

Soft as it began –

I loved my friend.


.     .     .



Better in the quiet night

To sit and cry alone

Than rest my head on another’s shoulder

After you have gone.


Better, in the brilliant day,

Filled with sun and noise,

To listen to no song at all

Than hear another voice.

.     .     .

“Poem (4)” (To the Black Beloved)



My black one,

Thou art not beautiful

Yet thou hast

A loveliness

Surpassing beauty.



My black one,

Thou art not good

Yet thou hast

A purity

Surpassing goodness.



My black one,

Thou art not luminous

Yet an altar of jewels,

An altar of shimmering jewels,

Would pale in the light

Of thy darkness,

Pale in the light

Of thy nightness.

.     .     .

“The Ring”


Love is the master of the ring

And life a circus tent.

What is this silly song you sing?

Love is the master of the ring.


I am afraid!

Afraid of Love

And of Love’s bitter whip!


Afraid of Love

And Love’s sharp, stinging whip.


What is this silly song you sing?

Love is the master of the ring.


.     .     .

“Ma Man”


When ma man looks at me

He knocks me off ma feet.

When ma man looks at me

He knocks me off ma feet.

He’s got those ‘lectric-shockin’ eyes an’

De way he shocks me sho is sweet.


He kin play a banjo.

Lordy, he kin plunk, plunk, plunk.

He kin play a banjo.

I mean plunk, plunk…plunk, plunk.

He plays good when he’s sober

An’ better, better, better when he’s drunk.



Daddy, eagle-rock with me.

Eagle rockin’,

Come an’ eagle-rock with me.

Honey baby,

Eagle-rockish as I kin be!

.     .     .

“Lament over Love”


I hope my child’ll

Never love a man.

I say I hope my child’ll

Never love a man.

Love can hurt you

Mo’n anything else can.


I’m goin’ down to the river

An’ I ain’t goin’ there to swim;

Down to the river,

Ain’t goin’ there to swim.

My true love’s left me

And I’m goin’ there to think about him.


Love is like whiskey,

Love is like red, red wine.

Love is like whiskey,

Like sweet red wine.

If you want to be happy

You got to  love all the time.


I’m goin’ up in a tower

Tall as a tree is tall,

Up in a tower

Tall as a tree is tall.

Gonna think about my man –

And let my fool-self fall.


.     .     .

“Dressed Up”


I had ma clothes cleaned

Just like new.

I put ’em on but

I still feels blue.


I bought a new hat,

Sho is fine,

But I wish I had back that

Old gal o’ mine.


I got new shoes –

They don’t hurt ma feet,

But I ain’t got nobody

For to call me sweet.

.     .     .

“To a Little Lover-Lass, Dead”



Who searched for lovers

In the night

Has gone the quiet way

Into the still,

Dark land of death

Beyond the rim of day.


Now like a little lonely waif

She walks

An endless street

And gives her kiss to nothingness.

Would God his lips were sweet!

.     .     .

“Harlem Night Song”



Let us roam the night together



I love you.


The Harlem roof-tops

Moon is shining.

Night sky is blue.

Stars are great drops

Of golden dew.


Down the street

A band is playing.


I love you.



Let us roam the night together


.     .     .

“Passing Love”


Because you are to me a song

I must not sing you over-long.


Because you are to me a prayer

I  cannot say you everywhere.


Because you are to me a rose –

You will not stay when summer goes.


.     .     .



Desire to us

Was like a double death,

Swift dying

Of our mingled breath,


Of an unknown strange perfume

Between us quickly

In a naked


.     .     .



I take my dreams

And make of them a bronze vase,

And a wide round fountain

With a beautiful statue in its centre,

And a song with a broken heart,

And I ask you:

Do you understand my dreams?

Sometimes you say you do

And sometimes you say you don’t.

Either way

It doesn’t matter.

I continue to dream.


.     .     .

“Lover’s Return”


My old time daddy

Came back home last night.

His face was pale and

His eyes didn’t look just right.


He says, “Mary, I’m

Comin’ home to you –

So sick and lonesome

I don’t know what to do.”


Oh, men treats women

Just like a pair o’ shoes –

You kicks ’em round and

Does ’em like you choose.


I looked at my daddy –

Lawd! and I wanted to cry.

He looked so thin –

Lawd! that I wanted to cry.

But the devil told me:

Damn a lover

Come home to die!


.     .     .



Who cares

About the hurt in your heart?


Make a song like this

for a jazz band to play:

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares.

Make a song like that

From your lips.

Nobody cares.

.     .     .

“Spring for Lovers”


Desire weaves its fantasy of dreams,

And all the world becomes a garden close

In which we wander, you and I together,

Believing in the symbol of the rose,

Believing only in the heart’s bright flower –

Forgetting – flowers wither in an hour.


.     .     .

“Rent-Party Shout:  For a Lady Dancer”


Whip it to a jelly!

Too bad Jim!

Mamie’s got ma man –

An’ I can’t find him.

Shake that thing!  O!

Shake it slow!

That man I love is

Mean an’ low.

Pistol an’ razor!

Razor an’ gun!

If I sees man man he’d

Better run –

For  I’ll shoot him in de shoulder,

Else I’ll cut him down,

Cause I knows I can find him

When he’s in de ground –

Then can’t no other women

Have him layin’ round.

So play it, Mr. Nappy!

Yo’ music’s fine!

I’m gonna kill that

Man o’ mine!


.     .     .     .     .

In the manner of all great poets Langston Hughes (February 1st, 1902 – 1967) wrote love poems (and love-blues poems), using the voices and perspectives of both Man and Woman.  In addition to such art, Hughes’ homosexuality, real though undisclosed during his lifetime, probably was responsible for the subtle and highly-original poet’s voice he employed for three of the poems included here:  Subway Face, Poem (2), and Desire.  Hughes was among a wealth of black migrants born in The South or the Mid-West who gravitated toward Harlem in New York City from about 1920 onward.  Along with Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and many others, Hughes became part of The Harlem Renaissance, that great-gorgeous fresh-flowering of Black-American culture.

.     .     .     .     .

Etta James: “Mi Fuerte Amante” / “Tough Lover”

Etta James

“Mi Fuerte Amante” (1956)




Tengo un amante que me mueve tanto,

Sabe hacer ‘el rocanrol’,

Porque es fuerte – mi amante –

Es un amante vigoroso,

Amante recio,

Un amante fuerte – ¡eso es!


Cuando me besa,

Me emociona;

Cuando se sacude,

No me quedo quieta.

Es un amante vigoroso,

Amante recio,

Un amante fuerte – ¡aaah, sííí!


Las Siete Hermanas no lo pueden tener,

Estoy hablando acerca del Amor –

Y es veloz – él – como el viento.

Habla la gente que estoy enbrujada.

Pero no es el vudú – ¡es ese “twist”!

El Amante más grande de nuestra era,

Aún Don Juan no tiene ningun’esperanza.

Te hace reír,

Te hace llorar,

Se pone tan recio que

Pued’hacer a un’estatua de Venus resucitar.

Hace todo lo que quiera – aún:

Pisotear los zapatos de gamuza-azul de Jesse James.

Es un amante audaz,

y duro, y recio,

Un amante fuerte – ¡ajá, ajá!


¿Tienes amante que quieras amar?

¡Golpéale en la cabeza una vez – o dos!

Será tu amante vigoroso – ¡sí, sí! –

Un amante recio – ¡eso es!

Un amante fuerte – ¡aaah, sííí!





Las Siete Hermanas se llaman Las Pléyades – en la mitología griega.

Las dos más famosas – Electra y Maia – eran “Fuerzas de la Naturaleza”.

Jesse James era un forajido estadounidense de la era “Viejo Oeste”.




Etta James (1938-2012)

escribió las letras y grabó esta canción

en 1956 – a la edad tierna de dieciocho años.

Su personalidad era fuerte y burlona pero pudo

cantar también la música íntima del Blues.


Traducción / interpretación  en español:  Lidia García Garay




Etta James

“Tough Lover” (1956)



Well, I’ve got a lover that moves me so

He sho knows how to rock’n’roll

‘Cause he’s a tough lover – yeah, yeah

He’s a tough lover – wooooo

Tough Lover – yeah, yeah

Tough Lover – unh hunh!


When he kisses me

I get a thrill

But when he does that wiggle

I can’t keep still

‘Cause he’s a tough lover – yeah, yeah

He’s a tough lover – wooooo!

Tough Lover – yeah, yeah

Tough Lover – unh hunh!


The Seven Sisters have nothin’ on him

I’m talkin’ about love – and he’s fast as the wind

People all talk about he’s got me fixed

It ain’t hoodoo –  it’s just that twist!

He’s the greatest lover ever come to pass

Don Juan ain’t got a half of a chance.

He can make you laugh

He can make you cry

He’s so tough he’ll make Venus come alive.

He can do anything that he wants to do –

Step on Jesse James’s blue-suede shoes

‘Cause he’s a tough lover – yeah, yeah

He’s a tough lover – wooooo!

Tough Lover – yeah, yeah

Tough Lover – unh hunh!


You got a lover

That you wanna love right?

Just pop him ’side the head

– Once or twice!

He’ll be a tough lover – yeah, yeah

He’ll be your tough lover – wooooo!

Tough lover – yeah, yeah

Tough lover – unh hunh!




Etta James (1938-2012)

was a rock’n’roll “mama” even

at the tender age of 18, which is when she

wrote and recorded this song with her band,

The Peaches.   Her vocal delivery was often

rough-and-tough in sound – but also full of

fun.   The “wooooo’s” in her singing she

borrowed from Little Richard, with whom

she toured in the 1950s.   By middle age she

was undisputedly the best living Blues singer

in The United States.


Langston Hughes: “La Señora y su Señora” / “Madame et sa Madame” / “Madam and her Madam”


Langston Hughes (February 1st, 1902 – 1967)

“Madam and Her Madam”     



I worked for a woman,

She wasn’t mean–

But she had a twelve-room

House to clean.


Had to get breakfast,

Dinner, and supper, too–

Then take care of her children

When I got through.


Wash, iron, and scrub,

Walk the dog around–

It was too much,

Nearly broke me down.


I said, Madam,

Can it be

You trying to make a

Pack-horse out of me?


She opened her mouth.

She cried, Oh, no!

You know, Alberta,

I love you so!


I said, Madam,

That may be true–

But I’ll be dogged

If I love you!




“La Señora y su Señora”

por Langston Hughes



Trabajé para una mujer

No era muy malvada—

Ella tenía una casa de doce cuartos

que yo tenía que limpiar.


Tenía que hacer desayuno,

Almuerzo y cena también—

Después atender a los niños,

Al terminar.


Lavar, planchar, y limpiar

Llevar a caminar al perro…

Era demasiado,

Casi me destroza.


Yo le dije, Señora,

¿Es posible que usted

Está tratando de convertirme

En un caballo de carga?


Ella habrió su boca

Y exclamó:

¡Oh, no!

Sabes Alberta,

¡Yo a tí te quiero mucho!


Yo le dije:  Señora,

Puede que eso sea verdad—

¡Pero que desgracia la mía

Si yo la quiero a usted!




Traducción del inglés al español:  Lidia García Garay


“Madame et sa Madame”

par Langston Hughes



J’ai travaillé pour une femme,

Elle n’était pas méchante—

Elle avait une maison avec

douze chambres

Que je devais nettoyer.

Préparer le petit déjeuner,

Le déjeuner et le dîner aussi—

Je devais garder ses enfants

Après tout ca.

Faire la lessive et la repasser,

et nettoyer le plancher,

Promener son chien—

C’était trop!,

Le travail m’a fait presque craquer.


Je lui ai dit:  Madame,

Est-ce qu’il est possible

Que vous essayiez

De me transformer en cheval de trait?


Elle a ouvert sa bouche.

Et elle a dit:  Pas du tout!

Tu sais Alberta,

Je t’aime beaucoup!


Je lui ai dit:  Madame,

Cela peut être la vérité

Mais je serais foutue

si je vous aime!


Traduction de l’anglais au français:

Lidia García Garay,  Lan Truong


Langston Hughes: “La Vida es buena” / “La Vie est bien” / “Life is Fine”



Langston Hughes  (February 1st, 1902 – 1967)

“Life is Fine”    


I went down to the river,

I set down on the bank.

I tried to think but couldn’t,

So I jumped in and sank.

I came up once and hollered!

I came up twice and cried!

If that water hadn’t a-been so cold

I might’ve sunk and died.

But it was      Cold in that water!      It was cold!


I took the elevator

Sixteen floors above the ground.

I thought about my baby

And thought I would jump down.

I stood there and I hollered!

I stood there and I cried!

If it hadn’t a-been so high

I might’ve jumped and died.

But it was high up there!      It was high!


So since I’m still here livin’,

I guess I will live on.

I could’ve died for love–

But for livin’ I was born

Though you may hear me holler,

And you may see me cry–

I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,

If you gonna see me die.

Life is fine!      Fine as wine!      Life is fine!




“La Vida es Buena”

por Langston Hughes



Fuí al río

Me senté a la orilla

Traté de pensar sin éxito alguno,

Entonces me lancé al agua y me hundí

¡Salí una vez y grité!

¡Sali una segunda vez y lloré!

Si el agua no hubiera estado tan fría

Me habría hundido y habría muerto

¡Pero estaba

Frío en el agua!

¡Hacía frío!


Tomé el ascensor

Quince pisos arriba

Pensé en mi amor

Y pensé que me tiraría

¡Estube un rato y grité!

¡Estube un rato y lloré!

Si no hubiera estado tan alto

Habría saltado y muerto.

¡Pero estaba muy alto allá arriba!


Entonces ya que estoy aquí vivo,

Supongo que seguiré viviendo.

Yo podría haber muerto por amor,

Pero para vivir nací

Aunque me oigan gritar—

Y me oigan llorar

Que desgracia la mía, dulce amor,

Si tu me vas a ver morir.

¡La Vida es Buena!  ¡Buena como el vino! ¡La Vida es Buena!




Traducción del inglés al español:  Lidia García Garay



“La Vie est Bien”

par Langston Hughes

(1er février, 1902 – 1967)



Je suis allé à la rivière,

me suis assis sur le bord,

J’ai essayé de penser mais je n’en ai pas pu,

alors je me suis jeté dans l’eau et j’ai coulé,

Je suis sorti de là et j’ai beuglé!

Une deuxième fois et j’ai pleuré.

Si l’eau n’avait pas été si froide

j’aurais coulé et été mort.

Mais il  faisait froid dans l’eau!


J’ai pris l’ascenseur,

suis monté dans le seizième étage,

J’ai pensé a mon amour

Et j’ai pensé à me jeter du haut de l’édifice.

Je suis resté un moment et j’ai beuglé!

Je suis resté là et j’ai pleuré!

Si où j’était n’était si haut

j’aurais eu me jeter et mourir.

Mais il était très haut là bas!


Alors, comme je suis encore ici et vivant,

Ça veut dire que je vais continuer à vivre.

Je serais mort à cause de l’amour

Mais je suis né pour vivre.

Vous pouvez m’entendre hurler

Et vous pouvez me voir pleurer –

Je serais foutu, mon amour,

Si tu me vois mourir.

La vie est bonne! Comme le vin est bon! La vie est bien!



Traduction de l’anglais au français: 

Lidia García Garay,  Lan Truong


Frederick Ward – on Africville

ZP_Young boy with, in the background, Ralph Jones' house boarded up for demolition_Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada_1965_photo by Bob Brooks

Dialogue # 3:  Old Man (to the Squatter)


– Listen here, son.  Did you think this were gonna work ?

Were you fool enough to think this were gonna work ?

They ain’t gonna let us put nothing up like that and

leave it.  They don’t intend to let us git it back.  You

ain’t a place.  Africville is us.  When we go to git a

job, what they ask us ?  Where we from … and if we say

we from Africville, we are Africville !  And we don’t git

no job.  It ain’t no place, son.  It were their purpose to

git rid of us and you believed they done it – could do it !

You think they destroyed something.  They ain’t.  They

took away the place.  But it come’d round, though.  Now that

culture come’d round.  They don’t just go out there and

find anybody to talk about Africville, they run find us,

show us off – them that’ll still talk, cause we Africville.


That ain’t the purpose …fer

whilst your edifice is forgone destroyed, its splinters

will cry out:  We still here !   Think on it, son.  You effort

will infix hope in the heart of every peoples.  Yet,

let’s see this thing clearer.  If our folk see you in the

suit, we may git the idea we can wear it.  The suit might

fall apart, but, son, it be of no notice.  We need the

example.  Now go back …and put you dwelling up again.




Frederick Ward has been described as “the most

undeservedly unsung poet in all of English-Canadian

literature” (Arc Poetry Magazine).

Born in 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri, the Black-American Ward

came to Canada in 1970 – just passing through Halifax – and

ended up staying. There he me met Black Nova Scotians recently

turfed out of their old community – Africville – which was

bulldozed by the city to make way for a dumpsite.  Their stories

became the basis of his 1974 novel, Riverlisp: Black Memories.

The poem above is from Ward’s 1983 poetry collection,

The Curing Berry.

Ward now lives in Montreal where he is a theatre teacher at

Dawson College.


Photograph:  Young boy with, in the background, Ralph Jones’ house boarded up for demolition

(Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – photo by Bob Brooks – year: 1965)