Langston Hughes: “Montage of a Dream Deferred”

February 2013_1

Langston Hughes (born February 1st 1902, died 1967)

“Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951):  a selection of poems


“Children’s Rhymes”


When I was a chile we used to play,

“One – two – buckle my shoe!”

and things like that.  But now, Lord,

listen at them little varmints!


By what sends

the white kids

I ain’t sent:

I know I can’t

be President.


There is two thousand children

In this block, I do believe!


What don’t bug

them white kids

sure bugs me:

We knows everybody

ain’t free!


Some of these young ones is cert’ly bad –

One batted a hard ball right through my window

And my gold fish et the glass.


What’s written down

for white folks

ain’t for us a-tall:

“Liberty And Justice –

Huh – For All.”



Skee!  Daddle-de-do!



Salt’ peanuts!




.     .     .





I don’t have to work.

I don’t have to do nothing

but eat, drink, stay black, and die.

This little old furnished room’s

so small I can’t whip a cat

without getting fur in my mouth

and my landlady’s so old

her features is all run together

and God knows she sure can overcharge –

which is why I reckon I does

have to work after all.


.     .     .


“Question (2)”


Said the lady, Can you do

what my other man can’t do –

that is

love me, daddy –

and feed me, too?






.     .     .


“Easy Boogie”


Down in the bass

That steady beat

Walking walking walking

Like marching feet.


Down in the bass

That easy roll,

Rolling like I like it

In my soul.


Riffs, smears, breaks.


Hey, Lawdy, Mama!

Do you hear what I said?

Easy like I rock it

In my bed!


.     .     .


“What?  So Soon!”


I believe my old lady’s

pregnant again!

Fate must have

some kind of trickeration

to populate the

cllud nation!

Comment against Lamp Post

You call it fate?





.     .     .




Tomorrow may be

a thousand years off:


Says this particular

cigarette machine.


Others take a quarter straight.


Some dawns



.     .     .


“Café:  3 a.m.”


Detectives from the vice squad

with weary sadistic eyes

spotting fairies.


some folks say.


But God, Nature,

or somebody

made them that way.

Police lady or Lesbian

over there?


.     .     .


“125th Street”


Face like a chocolate bar

full of nuts and sweet.


Face like a jack-o’-lantern,

candle inside.


Face like a slice of melon,

grin that wide.


.     .     .




In the gutter

boys who try

might meet girls

on the fly

as out of the gutter

girls who will

may meet boys

copping a thrill

while from the gutter

both can rise:

But it requires

Plenty eyes.


February 2013_2



When a chile gets to be thirteen

and ain’t seen Christ yet,

she needs to set on de moaner’s bench

night and day.


Jesus, lover of my soul!


Hail, Mary, mother of God!


Let me to thy bosom fly!


Amen!  Hallelujah!


Swing low, sweet chariot,

Coming for to carry me home.


Sunday morning where the rhythm flows,

How old nobody knows –

yet old as mystery,

older than creed,

basic and wondering

and lost as my need.


Eli, eli!

Te deum!




Father Bishop, Effendi, Mother Horne,

Father Divine, a Rabbi black

as black was born,

a jack-leg preacher, a Ph.D.


The mystery

and the darkness

and the song

and me.


.     .     .


“Nightmare Boogie”


I had a dream

and I could see

a million faces

black as me!

A nightmare dream:

Quicker than light

All them faces

Turned dead white!


Rolling bass,

Whirling treble

Of cat-gut lace.


.     .     .


“Blues at Dawn”


I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

If I thought thoughts in bed,

Them thoughts would bust my head –

So I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.


I don’t dare remember in the morning

Don’t dare remember in the morning.

If I recall the day before,

I wouldn’t get up no more –

So I don’t dare remember in the morning.


.     .     .




Down home

he sets on a stoop

and watches the sun go by.

In Harlem

when his work is done

he sets in a bar with a beer.

He looks taller than he is

and younger than he ain’t.

He looks darker than he is, too.

And he’s smarter than he looks,

He ain’t smart.

That cat’s a fool.

Naw, he ain’t neither.

He’s a good man,

except that he talks too much.

In fact, he’s a great cat.

But when he drinks,

he drinks fast.


he don’t drink.


he just

lets his glass

set there.


.     .     .


“Subway Rush Hour”



breath and smell

so close


black and white

so near

no room for fear.


.     .     .




We’re related – you and I,

You from the West Indies,

I from Kentucky.


Kinsmen – you and I,

You from Africa,

I from U.S.A.


Brothers – you and I.


.     .     .




Cheap little rhymes

A cheap little tune

Are sometimes as dangerous

As a sliver of the moon.

A cheap little tune

To cheap little rhymes

Can cut a man’s

Throat sometimes.


.     .     .


“Hope (2)”


He rose up on his dying bed

and asked for fish.

His wife looked it up in her dream book

and played it.


.     .     .


“Harlem (2)”


What happens to a dream deferred?


Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore –

and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over –

like a syrupy sweet?


Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.


Or does it explode?


.     .     .




Dear Mama,

Time I pay rent and get my food

and laundry I don’t have much left

but here is five dollars for you

to show you I still appreciates you.

My girl-friend send her love and say

she hopes to lay eyes on you sometime in life.

Mama, it has been raining cats and dogs up

here.  Well, that is all so I will close.

You son baby

Respectably as ever,



.     .     .




I play it cool

And dig all jive.

That’s the reason

I stay alive.


My motto,

As I live and learn,


Dig And Be Dug

In Return.



.     .     .     .     .

From Hughes’ introduction to his 1951 collection “Montage of a Dream Deferred”:

“In terms of current Afro-American popular music and the sources from which it has progressed – jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie, and be-bop – this poem on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session, sometimes the popular song, punctuated by the riffs, runs, breaks, and distortions of the music of a community in transition.”


February 2013_3


Editor’s note:

Langston Hughes’ poems “Theme for English B” and “Advice” – both of which were included in his publication of “Montage of a Dream Deferred” – are featured in separate Hughes’ posts on Zócalo Poets.

.     .     .     .     .

“Montage of a Dream Deferred”- from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad, with David Roessel, 1994

All poems © The Estate of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes: “Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés” / “Theme for English B”, translated into Spanish by Óscar Paúl Castro

ZP_Langston Hughes_pastel drawing by Winold Reiss

ZP_Langston Hughes_pastel drawing by Winold Reiss

Langston Hughes (1 febrero 1902 – 1967)

“Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés”


El profesor nos dijo:

Pueden irse a casa.

Esta noche escribirán una página:

que lo que escriban venga de ustedes,

así expresarán algo auténtico.


Me pregunto si es así de simple.

Tengo veintidós años, soy de color, nací en Winston-Salem.

Ahí asistí a la escuela, después en Durham, después aquí.

La Universidad está sobre la colina, dominando Harlem.

Soy el único estudiante de color en la clase.

Las escaleras que descienden por la colina desembocan en Harlem:

después de atravesar un parque, cruzar la calle san Nicolás,

la Octava Avenida, la Séptima, llego hasta el edificio “Y”

― la YMCA de Harlem Branch ― donde tomo el elevador,

entro en mi cuarto, me siento y escribo esta página:


Para ti no debe ser fácil poder identificar lo que es auténtico, tampoco lo es

para mí a esta edad: veintidós años. Supongo, sin embargo, que en todo

lo que siento, veo y escucho, Harlem, te escucho a ti:

te escucho, me escuchas; tú y yo ―juntos― estamos en esta página.

(También escucho a Nueva York) ¿Quién eres―Quién soy?

Bien: me gusta comer, dormir, beber, estar enamorado.

Me gusta trabajar, leer, me gusta aprender, e intentar comprender el sentido de la vida.

Quisiera una pipa como regalo de Navidad,

quizás unos discos: Bessie, bebop, o Bach.

Supongo que el hecho de ser negro no significa que me gusten

cosas distintas a las que les gustan a personas de otras razas.

¿En esta página que escribo se notará mi color?

Ciertamente ―siendo lo que soy― no será una página en blanco.

Y sin embargo

será parte de usted, maestro.

Usted es blanco,

y aun así es parte de mí, como yo soy parte de usted.

Eso significa ser americano.

Quizá usted no quiera ser parte de mí a veces.

Y en ocasiones yo no quiero ser parte de usted.

Pero, indudablemente, ambos somos parte del otro.

Yo aprendo de usted,

y supongo que usted aprende de mí:

aun cuando usted es mayor ―y blanco―

y, de alguna forma, más libre.


Está es mi tarea del Segundo Curso de Inglés.


.     .     .

Langston Hughes (born February 1st 1902, died 1967)

“Theme for English B”


The instructor said,

Go home and write

a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you –

Then, it will be true.


I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, coloured, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem.

I am the only coloured student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:


It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me – we two – you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York too.) Me – who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records – Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being coloured doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

So will my page be coloured that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white –

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me –

although you’re older – and white –

and somewhat more free.


This is my page for English B.


.     .     .

Traducción en español © Óscar Paúl Castro (nace 1979, Culiacán, México)

Óscar Paúl Castro, un poeta y traductor, es licenciado en Lengua y Literatura Hispánicas por la Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa. 

.     .     .     .     .

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.

.     .     .     .     .

Un breve poema – “antes del Fin” / A brief poem – “before The End”

ZP_Dicen Nostradamus y los Mayas que Nos Acerca El Fin. Sal con un gran pum. Disfrútate con un baile erótico del regazo, antes de que esté demasiado tarde…Sunset, December 20th 2012_Marquee of a Striptease Tavern in Toronto, Canada_A light touch concerning the gravitas of 21.12.2012 !

ZP_Dicen Nostradamus y los Mayas que Nos Acerca El Fin. Sal con un gran pum. Disfrútate con un baile erótico del regazo, antes de que esté demasiado tarde…Sunset, December 20th 2012_Marquee of a Striptease Tavern in Toronto, Canada_A light touch concerning the gravitas of 21.12.2012 !

A veces es el trabajo del Poeta impartirnos una lección para la Vida. Y quizás no nos queden bastante Tiempo hoy día para comprender esa lección – si tengan razón los comentarios recientes de unos intérpretes históricos- histéricos sobre la “profecía” maya – que es, en realidad, unas inscripciones en piedra –“ la cuenta larga”– que se tratan del fin de una época en el sistema-calendario de los mayas – y no del fin del mundo.  Pero…SI mañana, el 21 de diciembre, aun sea El Fin – o si sea el primer día de un nuevo ciclo – todavía es agradable cuando nos aconseja El Poeta…Presentamos un breve poema por Langston Hughes…




Mi gente, les digo a ustedes:

Son hechos puros y duros

el nacimiento y la muerte –

Pues, tomen el Amor

¡y tómenlo fuerte!

.     .     .

We present our readers with One Brief Poem – in case tomorrow is The End-Time and not just the start of the next epoch inscribed in the magnificent old Mayan stone calendar that has been much in the news of late…


Langston Hughes (1902-1967)



Folks, I’m telling you,

Birthing is hard

And dying is mean –

So get yourself

A little loving

In between.

.     .     .     .     .

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: “Yo también, canto a América…”/ “I, too, sing America…”


Langston Hughes (1 febrero 1902 – 1967)

“Yo también, canto a América”



Yo también, canto a América.

Yo soy el hermano de piel oscura.

Ellos me mandan a comer a la cocina

cuando vienen las visitas.

Pero yo me río,

Y como bien,

Y crezco fuerte.


Yo comeré en la mesa

Cuando las visitas lleguen.


Nadie se atreverá

A decirme,

“Come en la cocina,”


Ellos verán que tan bello soy

Y sentirán vergüenza-

Yo, también, soy América.





Traducción del inglés al español:

Anónimo/Anónima (de los años sesenta)




“I, too, sing America”



I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.





Langston Hughes as Translator: Lorca’s “Gypsy Ballads”





Half way down the ravine,

Gay with rival blood

The knives of Albacete

Shine like fishes.


A light hard as playing cards

In the acid greenness

Silhouettes furious horses

And the profiles of riders.


On the crest of an olive tree

Two old women cry.

The bull of the dispute

Charges up the walls.

Black angels bring

Handkerchiefs and snow-water,

Angels with big wings

Made of knives from Albacete.


Juan Antonio of Montilla

Rolls dead down the hill,

His body full of lilies

And a pomegranate at his temples.

Now he rides a cross of fire

On the road to death.


The judge, with the Civil Guards,

Comes through the olive groves.

Slippery blood sings

A silent song of serpents.

Honourable Civil Guards:

The same as usual –

Four Romans dead

And five Carthaginians.


Crazed with hot rumours and fig trees,

The afternoon falls fainting

On the wounded limbs of the riders.

Black angels fly

Through the western air,

Angels with long braids

And hearts of oil.





En la mitad del barranco

las navajas de Albacete,

bellas de sangre contraria,

relucen como los peces.


Una dura luz de naipe

recorta en el agrio verde

caballos enfurecidos

y perfiles de jinetes.


En la copa de un olivo

lloran dos viejas mujeres.

El toro de la reyerta

su sube por la paredes.

Angeles negros traían

pañuelos y agua de nieve.

Angeles con grandes alas

de navajas de Albacete.


Juan Antonio el de Montilla

rueda muerto la pendiente

su cuerpo lleno de lirios

y una granada en las sienes.

Ahora monta cruz de fuego,

carretera de la muerte.


El juez con guardia civil,

por los olivares viene.

Sangre resbalada gime

muda canción de serpiente.

Señores guardias civiles:

aquí pasó lo de siempre.

Han muerto cuatro romanos

y cinco cartagineses


La tarde loca de higueras

y de rumores calientes

cae desmayada en los muslos

heridos de los jinetes.

Y ángeles negros volaban

por el aire del poniente.

Angeles de largas trenzas

y corazones de aceite.



The Faithless Wife


I took her to the river

Thinking she was single,

But she had a husband.

It was Saint James’ Eve,

And almost because I had to.

The street lights went out

And the crickets lit up.

At the farthest corners

I touched her sleeping breasts

And they opened for me quickly

Like bouquets of hyacinths.

The starch of her underskirts

Rustled in my ears

Like a piece of silk

Slit by ten knives.

With no silver light to crown them

The trees grew bigger,

While a horizon of dogs barked

Afar from the river.


Beyond the brambles,

The bulrushes, and the hawthorns,

I made her mat of hair

Hollow the muddy bank.

I took off my tie,

She took off her dress,

Me, my belt with the pistol,

She, the four parts of her bodice.

Neither lilies nor snail shells

Have such a lovely skin,

Nor do the crystals of the moon

Shine with such a light.

Half bathed in fire

And half bathed in ice,

Her thighs slipped from me

Like frightened fish.

That night I rode

Down the best of roads

On a mother-of-pearl filly

With no bridle and no stirrups.

Being a man, I can’t tell you

The things that she told me.

The light of understanding

Makes me very careful.

Soiled with kisses and sand

I led her away from the river

While the swords of the lilies

Battled with the breeze.

I acted like the thoroughbred

Gypsy that I am,

And gave her a present,

A big sewing box

Of straw-coloured satin.

But I didn’t want

To fall in love with her

For, having a husband,

She told me she was single

When I took her to the river.




“La Casada Infiel”


Y que yo me la llevé al río

creyendo que era mozuela,

pero tenía marido.

Fue la noche de Santiago

y casi por compromiso.

Se apagaron los faroles

y se encendieron los grillos.

En las últimas esquinas

toqué sus pechos dormidos,

y se me abrieron de pronto

como ramos de jacintos.

El almidón de su enagua

me sonaba en el oído,

como una pieza de seda

rasgada por diez cuchillos.

Sin luz de plata en sus copas

los árboles han crecido

y un horizonte de perros

ladra muy lejos del río.


Pasadas las zarzamoras,

los juncos y los espinos,

bajo su mata de pelo

hice un hoyo sobre el limo.

Yo me quité la corbata.

Ella se quitó el vestido.

Yo el cinturón con revólver.

Ella sus cuatro corpiños.

Ni nardos ni caracolas

tienen el cutis tan fino,

ni los cristales con luna

relumbran con ese brillo.

Sus muslos se me escapaban

como peces sorprendidos,

la mitad llenos de lumbre,

la mitad llenos de frío.

Aquella noche corrí

el mejor de los caminos,

montado en potra de nácar

sin bridas y sin estribos.

No quiero decir, por hombre,

las cosas que ella me dijo.

La luz del entendimiento

me hace ser muy comedido.

Sucia de besos y arena

yo me la llevé del río.

Con el aire se batían

las espadas de los lirios.


Me porté como quién soy.

Como un gitano legítimo.

La regalé un costurero

grande, de raso pajizo,

y no quise enamorarme

porque teniendo marido

me dijo que era mozuela

cuando la llevaba al río.




Langston Hughes ( February 1st 1902 – 1967)

lived in México for part of his boyhood, and,

two decades later, travelled to

Spain when he became interested in Communism.

Though he was familiar with the Spanish poetry of

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936),

the poet had already been killed by the time

Hughes got to Spain (toward the end of

The Spanish Civil War) in 1938.


Inspired by the Fiesta de Cante Jondo (Festival of

Deep Song) in 1922, Lorca had immersed himself

in the gypsy subculture of Andalucía, Spain.  The

result was his 1928 collection of poems,

“Primer romancero gitano”.   In 1951, Langston

Hughes published his translations into English

of a dozen or so of these “Gypsy Ballads”,

two of which we feature here.