I am not sure how I feel about Summers-Brenmer’s essay, so I will leave it on the back burner for now.

I do want to look at Hughes’s poetry in light of Henry Louis Gates Jr. essay “Talking Black: Critical Signs of the Time.” At the beginning of that essay, Gates relates an anecdote of Alexander Crummell, where Crummell overheard soon to be vice president John Calhoun say “the the effect–‘that if he could find a Negro who knew the Greek syntax, he would then believe that the Negro was a human…”(2425)

Gates uses this to show how he would go on to master the master’s language, but that maybe it didn’t matter because “Calhoun, we suspect, was not impressed” (2426), but Gates uses this to argue that African-american intellectuals and readers should not be afraid of theory, stating “We must redefine theory itself from within our own black cultures, refusing to grant the racist premise that theory is something that white people”– and I believe this is also seen in Hughes’s poetry.

And I also believe that rather than (or maybe along with) Brenmer’s contention that Bebop is used as “…poetry specific to a time” that it is also used in this way that Gates wants to use theory: this is Hughes showing the master that he can master poetry and Latin and be just as erudite using Harlem as Eliot is in using England.

As I was surprised when Brenmer makes no connection between Eliot (Dante) and Hughes when she looks at Hughes line:

I never knew/ that many Negros/were on Earth/ did you?/ I never knew

Which seems to echoes Eliot eluding to Dante:

” so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”

And it seems to be that Hughes is taking up the charge that Gates argues for. He can be just as clever as the canonical white men with his allusions and erudition. As Gates wants a critical language that is grounded in/ that springs from a Black vernacular, Hughes here is giving a poetry in such a way. Isn’t the first poem voicing this dichotomy? Juxtaposed to the literary African-americans writing about the black experience is the illiterate African-american relating that experience through song.

And this seems to be the center of “Theme for English B” where the language is displayed as a communal property, and not just the white man’s: “so will the page be colored that I write?/ Being me, it will not be white” because the language that the Black student learns in class will always be the hegemonic language of the white man, but if the Black student is mastering the language, then won’t the language be “colored”?

But is this the crux? Eliot is white from Boston living in London, reading Dante, so his language, his poetry, will be “white” and Hughes is in Harlem, living in the city, surrounded by the Blues and Jazz so his language will always be colored by these experiences. Although, maybe it is too simplistic to say that the only real difference here is actual, physical location.

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