Harlem Renaissance Poetry

Today, we introduced students to the Harlem Renaissance with the poem Harlem by Walter Dean Myers. We focused on the poetry of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. Students worked in small groups to read and analyze a Harlem Renaissance poem and then rewrite the poem using the same title. Here is some of the poems we read in class followed by student work.

Langston Hughes

Original poem:

I, Too 
Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.
I, am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kichen
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.

Student work:

I, Too
Said Derbel

I, too, want to be free.

I’m the little brother.
I don’t care, I don’t care about my rights.
They just need my stupidity
To kill my freedom.

And they are like me.
They don’t care, they don’t care if I grow up.
But at the end we must look on the sunny side
And I find my freedom.

I won’t let these evil creatures go away.
I will have my revenge.
Then, if I’m a kid and I’m chained to the floor
I can’t cut these cables which keep me from going anywhere.

But the sunshine is coming
And my liberty is coming with it.
So, now I have the right to say–

I, too, want to be free.

I, Too
Nihel Innoubli, Omaima Gdoura, Mariam Mezghani

I, too, am Tunisian.

I have rights like everyone.
Everything is comfortable for the rich
health, education, food.
But us, the poor, have nothing.

The rich look down on us even though
We are all humans.
We are all Tunisians.
But from now, stop


No unequality
Now our rights
Our freedom
Now our chains are broken
No distance

Because I, too, am Tunisian.

Original Poem:

Langston Hughes

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

Student work:

Mohamed Kammoun, Ismail Damak, Jihen Amich

Democracy is a nice goal
However, segregation is a terrible hole

We were born different
As it makes our life better
We learn to live together
We learn to cooperate forever

Hand in hand
To life in perfect harmony
Like ebony and ivory
On the piano keyboard

We learn to give a hand
To stand in our land
We learn to help a needy brother
We are ready to support each other

We care about society
As the poor are part of humanity

Fares Masmoudi

Democracy is a stong word
All the people in the world
Speak about it
And can’t live without it

Everybody needs freedom
And hopes to stop racism

In Tunisia we were living under dictatorship
Now, we want a big ship
To travel to
Freedom île

Original poem:

My People
Langston Hughes

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Student work:

My People
Molka Alloush

The stars are brilliant,
Also my people’s eyes.

The moon is high,
Like my people’s mind.

The sky is pure,
So my people’s soul.

The sea is large,
Like my people’s heart.

They’re never lazy,
Just all the time crazy.
With them life is always amazing.

My People
Khouloud Gargouri, Ahmed Rebei

We are the best
Better than the rest

We are the power
More beautiful than a flower

In a selfish world, we’re helpful
In an Arabic world, our revolution was successful

In the winter, we’re together
In the summer, we’re together
Always, forever

All, black and white
Lighting like the moon in night

Just look at our eyes
We’re in Tunisia, the paradise

My People
Marwa Kallel

The building is coherent
So the effort of my people
The mountain is strong
So the heart of my people
The lion is courageous
So the ambitions of my people
The sky is pure
So the dignity of my people
The stars are high
So the mind of my people
The sun is brilliant
So the presence of my people
The moon is beautiful
So the faces of my people
The sea is large
So the dreams of my people
The dove is free
So the life of my people
Gorgeous also are the angels
Gorgeous also are the souls of my people

My People
Rahma Hleli, Naim Abida

The faces of my people are dark,
Like the night.

The eyes of my people are light in the darkness,
Like the stars.

Beautiful, also is the sun
Beautiful, also the souls
Of my people.

My people are beautiful.
My people love the differences
Between them and others.

Funny, great in everything.

Original Poem:

Harlem [Dream Deferred]
Langston Hughes

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?

Student Work:

Dream Deferred
Yesmine Ben Ali, Yesmine Bouslema

How can I live with a dream deffered?
How can I live without that dream?
O it is so difficult
God please help me!
There is only pain, pain, pain
I can’t complete this life
A life with my body, but
Without a soul
A life with a dream deferred
Dream deferred

Dream Deferred
Emna Mkawar, Rafii Ketata

Have you ever had a dream deferred?
Did you feel like hope was gone?
Or laid on your bed
And just cried?
Did you feel desperate
Or weak, becaues you didn’t realize your dream?
Like a plastic bag, just drifting in the wind?

Maybe you don’t feel like anything
But it’s OK not to be OK
Just don’t lose who you are
Because you’re special
Keep smiling and carry on, and
Everything will be alright for you

Dream Deferred
Jasser Aydi, Chedly Masmoudi

It’s hard to be like this
Doing my best but without result
And I always fail
It’s hard to be like this

I can’t handle this life
When I see people smiling and happy with their success
I feel like it’s the end of the world
Why just me? I can’t make a change?
Tell me why?

Tell me why?

Actually, I can
I just have to believe
Believe in my ability
Believe in my God who will be with me
Believe that I was born with talents

I will never surrender
I will win or I will die
To change someone’s life
I don’t have to waste it


Claude McKay

Original poem:

If We Must Die
Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Student work:

If We Must Die
Mouna Louati, Hind Azaiez

Death is our inevitable end
But if we must die,
Let our blood be always red

Death is our fate at the end
But, murderous
We have to borrow and lend
Our rights, our lives and our dreams

You kill us as your mood!
You prevent us from our childhood
That is not good!
Damnit! You are rude!

If we must die
We should say goodbye
To our mothers, who say why!


James Weldon Johnson

Original poem:

To America
James Weldon Johnson

How would you have us, as we are?
Or sinking ‘neath the load we bear?
Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
Or gazing empty at despair?

Rising or falling? Men or things?
With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
Or tightening chains about your feet?

Student work:

To America
Omaima Allouch, Dhoha Hajkassem

Why do people live in darkness?
Poor deprived of light in their lives!
Why are children scared?
Poor they have no choice but to accept defeat!

Why do they see the sight?
Without hope, only despair.
Why does this happen!

War! It’s the cause of their sadness.
Just believe
They are human, like you!
Just believe,
They have the right to live in peace!

To America
Omaima Maalej, Wafa Fakhfakh, Imene Channoufi

In my dream children sing
About the same right
Between black and white

It’s true that black people
Are deprived of their right
To educate and participate

They’re beaten when they talk about this right
Blacks suffer from white
That’s why humanity pushes us to protect what’s right

I hope that my dream can be


Countee Cullen

Original Poem:

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all the I remember.

Student Work:

The Incident
Chedi Chaabane, Feriel Amich

Once riding in the school bus
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee
I saw a pretty lady
I kept looking at she

Now, I was sixteen and I was rude
And she was no whit younger
I told her she was gorgeous
So she slapped me and said,

Of all the things that happend on that bus
That’s all that I remember

Posted on February 14, 2012, in Student Work. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. hihi Ilike these poems, good job friends ! 😀
    But I wrote the poem wihch title is ‘To America’ with Dhoha Hajkassem, not Molka :p

  2. Hey guys ! Good Job 😀
    I really like the poem written by Ahmed and Khouloud 😉

  3. good job my friends 😉

  4. I can’t say anything appart from that you wowed me, friends. 😉

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