‘merican Mystic: Langston Hughes (1902-1964)

[A simple definition of a mystic is one who seeks to experience God or the Transcendent.  Many of the greatest mystics have shared some of those experiences through poetry.  This is one a series of posts to share a spiritual poem and several quotations that have to do with some of the great themes of mystical writers and saints.   Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson are just two of what I call ‘merican Mystics.  “”Mother to Son” speaks not only to the experience of growing up black in the early 20th Century, but also to the struggle of working a twelve-step program or trying to live out one’s faith in this day and age.  Where possible, I have embedded a video rendition of the featured poem.  Your suggestions about other ‘merican Mystics are most welcome.]

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor–
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you find it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now–
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.



Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.


Like a welcome summer rain,
humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.

Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows,
Help us to see
That without the dust the rainbow
Would not be.

I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting
almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.

I play it cool
I dig all jive
That’s the reason
I stay alive
My motto
As I live and learn
Is dig and be dug in return

[BOOKS: http://www.amazon.com/Langston-Hughes/e/B000APX13I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1328102375&sr=1-1]

[PHOTO by Carl Van Vechten  SOURCE Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, reproduction number LC-USZ62-92598 DLC (b&w film copy neg.) Now in the public domain and available on Wikkimedia Commoms.]


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
This entry was posted in Quotations, Songs and Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘merican Mystic: Langston Hughes (1902-1964)

  1. When I lived in Sicily in 1965-1966, the book I missed most was a collection of Langston Hughes’ poems and finally asked my father to ship it to me. Reading the poetry of Hughes for me was akin to reconnecting with my America, feeling that despite the distance between us I was still a native son who missed her terribly.
    Though that book of Langston Hughes somehow got lost in one of my many life’s moves, I still consider him a favorite poet of mine. His words were simple; his message is profound. Like another favorite, Carl Sandburg, Hughes spoke for the common people. The two of them touched hearts and stirred souls to love God more.
    Thanks for posting these poems, Father.

  2. Kelly Rose says:

    I have only a passing familiarity with him. But now I will read more. I love Mystic Mondays!

    Thanks also to all those who have served our country. God bless America!

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