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Nature And The Human Soul Essay, Research Paper

Langston Hughes uses nature in several dimensions to demonstrate the powerful struggles and burdens of human life. Throughout several of Langston Hughes poems, the sweeping imagery of the beauty and power of nature demonstrates the struggles the characters confront, and their eventual freedom from those struggles. Nature and freedom coexist, and the characters eventually learn to find freedom from the confines of society, oneself, and finally freedom within ones soul. The use of nature for this purpose brings the characters and speakers in Hughes works to life, and the reader feels the life and freedom of those characters. Nature, in the works of Hughes serves as a powerful symbol that represents the struggle of the human soul towards freedom, the anguish of that struggle, and the joy when that freedom is finally reached. In Langston Hughes poetry, nature serves as a strong symbol for triumphs and defeat of the soul. He uses the imagery of rivers to demonstrate the speaker’s connection with the earth and nature in his poem. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. In this poem, the speaker in the poem has known Rivers; he speaks of rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. Rivers symbolize the lifeline of the earth. When the speaker refers to the rivers, he is reflecting on his connection with the earth. He feels a part of the earth, and it is almost as if his soul is kindred to the earth when he says, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” In this poem, Langston Hughes uses the imagery and symbolism of rivers as an expression of the oneness between the soul and the earth. The speaker’s soul is united with nature; he is like a river in that he is connected with earth, nature, and himself. In the poem “Sun Song”, by Langston Hughes, there is a similar expression of the affinity between man and earth, yet a subtle contrast exists. In this poem, nature is not viewed as wholly perfect. The speaker sings of “Sun and softness,” and “Sun and the beaten hardness of the earth”. The softness of the sun and the hardness of the earth demonstrate the dichotomy of man’s relationship with nature. Man basks in the beauty of nature while at the same time struggling against its forces. The earth is hard and we toil under the sun, yet we can appreciate the wonder of Sun and the song of all the sun-stars. Hughes musical language expresses without disdain this relationship between man and the earth. Again, in the poem “Dream Variations”, Hughes demonstrates how nature helps celebrate and free the soul. The tone of the poem is celebratory and the speaker is joyous as he rejoices at the end of a day:

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree . . .

The speaker in the soul is free and liberated as he rejoices with nature.

He celebrates in the sun, and rests beneath the comfort of a tree. Nature not only provides man with a means to express the freedom of his soul, but it also gives man relief. In contrast, a different side of nature is depicted in Hughes poem, “Song for a Dark Girl”. The language in this poem paints a macabre picture of a racist south. In this poem, nature is harsh, unfair, and cruel. Instead of providing

man with a means to express the freedom of his soul, nature confines the soul. Nature serves as a symbol for the captivity and death of the soul. The black man that is lynched in the poem could not be free in this society, and the girl he leaves behind mourns at the sight of the tree. For her, the image of this tree brings anguish to the soul:

Way Down South in Dixie

(break the heart of me)

They hung my black young lover

To a crossroads tree.

The tree is the object on which this girl’s lover was hung. Nature becomes a symbol for the burden of the anguish of the soul. Nature’s role in this poem not only kills the young lover, but also suffocates the soul of the young girl.

Nature bears witness to the evils of man, the sufferings of love, the

loss of a loved one to a brutal and inhumane death. Nature serves not as a symbol of the burden of the freedom of the soul, but as a symbol for the captivity and death of the soul. Here nature is the picture of desolation, evil, and raw human pain. In Langston Hughes’ poetry, a Negro speaks of his connection to rivers, deep in the earth, of the softness of the sun, and yet he also speaks of the gnarled tree from which hangs the body of a bruised, dead Negro. The imagery in these two works appear to represent quite different human experiences, but a closer

examination reveals that he represents the basic human struggle that plagues the characters/speakers in these works. In these works, the images of nature serves as a symbol of the freedom of the soul, yet simultaneously serving as a symbol for the burden of achieving that freedom, and the anguish of the struggle. Hughes use

nature in their works in the form of sweeping imagery, poignant metaphors, and precise, powerful symbolism. The use of nature for this purpose draws their characters/speakers to life and adds great depth to their works. Nature not only represents humankind’s greatest bliss, but also symbolizes our greatest enemy . . . the earth on which we live.


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