The Panther and the Lash, by Langston Hughes

The Panther and the Lash

What It’s About

A collection of Langston Hughes’ most politically outspoken poems, published in 1967.

Why I Think You’d Like It

When it comes to poetry, I think we often expect a puzzle. Most poems, by way of symbolic language and artful structure, partially conceal their subject. In doing so, they make you hunt for it, and so when you finally realize what they are saying, it hits you all the more powerfully. Langston Hughes does almost the opposite. He takes what we all witness and understand, but shroud in euphemism and distancing language, and he strips it bare. He takes topics that we would dance gingerly up to, and subtracts the dance. He plunges us straight into truth, and then looks at us with arms crossed and eyebrow raised, not even having to say, “what? don’t tell me you’re surprised. I know, deep down, you aren’t really.”

There are classics who should be read because of their place in history, and there are classics that should be read because they are damn good. Langston Hughes is both. He is smart and wry. His poems pound like feet slapping the pavement. His words move. He was one of our first Black poets, and a leader of the Harlem Renaissance whose voice long outlasted its heydey. His voice revolutionized American poetry.

Consider this review a recommendation of any of his works, but I do especially like The Panther and the Lash. It is Hughes at his most raw, fierce and angry, and in my opinion, that also makes it him at his best.

Content Warnings

Swearing, slurs, references to violent periods.

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