by Langston Hughes
I would liken you
To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.
I would liken you
To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs.
This short six line poem by Langston Hughes is comprised of two separate three line sentences. It has no dedicated rhyme scheme. Hughes utilizes anaphora by repeating words and phrases in the two sentences. Line 1 and 4 are repeated verbatim while lines 2 and 5, and lines 3 and 6, each begin the same way.
Despite being so brief, the poem is thought-provoking. Our primary clue as to the Speaker’s intent is the poem’s title. Without a specific “Quiet Girl” addressed, the Reader can personalize the poem.
In the first three lines, the Speaker addresses the Quiet Girl and tells her that she is almost a complete mystery. His metaphor here for mystery is “a night without stars.” However, line three is both intended as a compliment and as an expression of how the quiet girl reveals some of what is hidden. The night is not totally without stars – he sees them in her eyes.
In the next three lines, the second sentence, the Speaker addresses the Quiet Girl again in the same manner. The mystery metaphor here is “sleep without dreams.” In the sixth line, the Speaker says the Quiet Girl’s songs break a dreamless slumber. The picture painted is one where perhaps the Speaker is observing a woman who says little, or who has not yet spoken to him, and she is singing quietly to herself.
Who is Langston Hughes?
James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. One of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry, Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the Negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue.”
Growing up in a series of Midwestern towns, Hughes became a prolific writer at an early age. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he made his career. He graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio and soon began studies at Columbia University in New York City. Although he dropped out, he gained notice from New York publishers, first in The Crisis magazine, and then from book publishers and became known in the creative community in Harlem. He eventually graduated from Lincoln University. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays, and short stories. He also published several non-fiction works. From 1942 to 1962, as the civil rights movement was gaining traction, he wrote an in-depth weekly column in a leading black newspaper, The Chicago Defender.