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Theme for English B

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The instructor said,

      Go home and write
      a page tonight.
      And let that page come out of you—
      Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.   
I went to school there, then Durham, then here   
to this college on the hill above Harlem.   
I am the only colored student in my class.   
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,   
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me   
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.   
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.   
So will my page be colored that I write?   
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.   
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
Source: Selected Poems (Vintage Books, 1959)
Theme for English B

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