Sylvester’s Dying Bed

By Langston Hughes 1902–1967 Langston Hughes
I woke up this mornin’   
’Bout half-past three.   
All the womens in town   
Was gathered round me.

Sweet gals was a-moanin’,   
“Sylvester’s gonna die!”
And a hundred pretty mamas   
Bowed their heads to cry.

I woke up little later
’Bout half-past fo’,
The doctor ‘n’ undertaker’s   
Both at ma do’.

Black gals was a-beggin’,
“You can’t leave us here!”   
Brown-skins cryin’, “Daddy!   
Honey! Baby! Don’t go, dear!”

But I felt ma time’s a-comin’,   
And I know’d I’s dyin’ fast.
I seed the River Jerden
A-creepin’ muddy past—
But I’s still Sweet Papa ’Vester,   
Yes, sir! Long as life do last!

So I hollers, “Com’ere, babies,   
Fo’ to love yo’ daddy right!”
And I reaches up to hug ’em—
When the Lawd put out the light.

Then everything was darkness   
In a great ... big ... night.

Langston Hughes, “Sylvester’s Dying Bed” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted with the permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

Source: Poetry (October 1931).


This poem originally appeared in the October 1931 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 1931
 Langston  Hughes


Langston Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during the 1920s, a period known as the "Harlem Renaissance" because of the number of emerging black writers. Du Bose Heyward wrote in the New York Herald Tribune in 1926: "Langston Hughes, although only twenty-four years old, is already conspicuous in the group of Negro intellectuals who are dignifying Harlem with a genuine art life. . . . It is, however, as . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Sorrow & Grieving, Living, Relationships, Love, Death, Heartache & Loss, Realistic & Complicated

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Ballad, Persona

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