I am pleased to have found on You Tube an actual recording of Langston Hughes. It is a black and white recording from 1958, but what is really appealing is that Hughes is reading his poem "The Weary Blues" with musical accompaniment. The students are aware of his interest in jazz and blues from reading his biography. Now they get to see how he combined his fascination with differing artistic expressions. Before watching the video I post these questions: What do you notice? How does it connect with what you already know about Langston Hughes? Do the music and recitation of the poem complement one another? Why? Why not? See the recording here:
For your convenience, a print copy of the poem is available here.
Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son" compares life to a staircase. The metaphor is developed throughout the lines of the poem. I do not tell this to students but let them discover it on their own. The book Poetry Speaks Expanded (Sourcebooks, Inc. 2007) includes a CD on which Langston Hughes reads this poem. If you happen to have a copy, it is an excellent way to introduce it to students. Otherwise, begin by reading the poem aloud a few times.
The next step in this lesson is to work with the students to identify, the speaker, theme, and mood in the poem. In addition, we work to uncover the figurative language and to get students to consider why the author chose to write in this way and how it adds to the poem’s meaning. One significant aspect of this poem is the use of dialect, which gives particular insight into the speaker’s life. We continue to examine the poem and notice how the topic is developed: the first section lists the difficulties encountered on the staircase, the next section focuses on the need for perseverance, and the last section offers encouragement and advice. A marked up copy of the poem appears here.
For homework, students answer comprehension questions. Tomorrow they will write poems using this format, so the questions are useful to activate prior knowledge, as explained in this video.