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GOOD NEWS: London And Harlem

"Harlem" and "London" are two wonderful poems. (The poem "Harlem" is also called "Dream Deferred). Both are well written, made of vivid images, and bear the names of the cities in which they were written.

"Harlem" was written in Harlem, New York, during the Harlem Renaissance years in 1951, by Langston Hughes, an African American writer, poet, and dramatist.

"London" was written in London, the capital of Great Britain, by William Blake, a talented British poet and artist, during the horrible days of the huge class differences engendered by the domination of the British monarchy and aristocracy over everyone else. Therefore, in order to compare and contrast the two poems, "Harlem" and "London," we should consider the social circumstances, that had inspired these two very great but very different poets, one a white Englishman, the other a black American.

"London," the capital of Great Britain, is the city of injustice and harsh misery in the poem. The poet William Blake could begin the poem with this sentence: "What happens when all dreams are lost?"

The Harlem Renaissance years are known in American history as a dream period. Renaissance is a French word which in English means rebirth.

At that time, things were changing for the better in the United States of America. Therefore, it is normal to understand the "dream" of the poet Langston Hughes, and his great desire to keep it alive.

And the very first verse of the poem may confirm this: "What happens to a dream deferred?" However, instead of speaking about Harlem, the city located in New York, and the nature of his "dream," the poet would rather interrogate:


Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?


And then, the poem ends like it begins, with a question mark:


"Or does it explode?"


Well, since Langston Hughes describes nothing about the geographic city of Harlem, we can affirm that "Harlem" is a symbolic or philosophical poem. But, what does the poem mean exactly? We can only speculate. However, we know for sure that there is a great sense of happiness, for the poet's dream, as depicted in the poem, gives us the hope of better days ahead.

In fact, the Harlem Renaissance witnessed many major changes in the United States of America: the Civil Rights Movement made much progress, and later we had the Feminist Movement. Art and literature flourished, and so on. Is this the dream or part of the dream? Still no one knows for sure. While we try to investigate what is going on in "Harlem," we know for sure the situation going in "London."

"London," the capital of Great Britain, is the city of injustice and harsh misery in the poem. The poet William Blake could begin the poem with this sentence: "What happens when all dreams are lost?" In the days of William Blake, it seems that if ever there had been somewhat of a dream in his native London, it certainly would have been the one to die. For example, let's look at the first quatrain of the poem:


I wander through the chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And marks in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.


These images are quite different from the ones found in "Harlem." As one can notice, they're affirmative sentences. While Langston Hughes interrogates in "Harlem," William Blake either affirms or confirms in "London." But, what does the poet affirm or confirm? To answer this question, let's look at the poem again:


In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.


Well, if "Harlem" is a child of dreams and happiness, "London" is one of oppression and injustice. Therefore, "Harlem" is the total opposite of "London."

As we can understand Langston Hughes' dream in "Harlem," we can understand William Blake's despair in "London" as well. At the time he wrote "London," England was one of the most corrupt states in the world. It was a monarchy, and the king-corrupt or not-was considered to be God's appointee.

Therefore, everyone must share the king's personal values, including religious beliefs. Otherwise, you were accused of heresy, which means total rebellion against God and the king, His appointee; and this crime was punished by the death penalty. As a result of this system, although the British people were being oppressed, they had to admire their oppressors as if they were God's gifts to humanity.

In a situation like this, I can understand the poet William Blake's despair and resignation in "London," especially in the last quatrain of the poem where the poet criticizes the marriage institution, which he considers to be-at least to some extent-part of the brutal system:


But most through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new-born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.


There are some similarities, though, in the poems: "Harlem" and "London." Both are immortal and enlighten the artistic, social and political realities of their times and places. "Harlem" is written in free verse. "London" is written in the traditional verse form. "Harlem" reveals the "dream" of the Harlem Renaissance years. "London" denounces the injustice and misery of the dark ages of Great Britain during the reign of the domination of the British monarchy. In order words, both poems are typical products of their civilizations.

Before everything, a poet is a witness of his time. Otherwise, he will never be fully understood. Therefore, to compare the two poems: "Harlem" and "London," it would be wise to take into consideration the social contexts or circumstances that had inspired their authors: The contents and forms of the poems are different because their civilizations are different.

However, we can still admire both poems, "Harlem" and "London," from two different perspectives: while in "Harlem," one can enjoy the beauty of a "dream" that should never be "deferred," "London" may revolt another one's conscience in seeing on "every face marks of weakness, marks of woe."

Adapted from a Good News by Jean Elie Paraison as submitted to www.thecoolgroup.org

©

Work Cited

Hughes, Langston. "Dream Deferred." 03 June 2007 .

Blake, William. "London." O3 June 2007 <.about.com/cs/poemlyrics/a/London.htm>.



~~

A little known fact:

The first testicular guard cup was used in 1874.

The first head helmet was used in 1934.

~~

It took 60 years for men to realize that the brain is also important.

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