Which Part Of Hughes’S Poem Is An Allusion To Whitman’S Poem?

by Amy
T.S. Eliot

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and Walt Whitman (1819-1892) are two influential American poets who have left indelible marks on the landscape of American literature. Both poets are renowned for their distinctive styles and their profound impact on poetry within their respective literary movements.

Walt Whitman, often hailed as the father of free verse and a prominent figure of American transcendentalism, revolutionized poetry with his epic work “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855. His poetry celebrated democracy, nature, the individual, and the interconnectedness of all things, embracing themes of optimism and human potential.

Langston Hughes emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement of the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated African American art, music, and literature. Hughes’s poetry, deeply rooted in the experiences of African Americans, captured the vibrancy and struggles of urban life, racial injustice, and the quest for identity. His works resonated with a powerful blend of musicality, simplicity, and social commentary.

Identification of Hughes’s Poem and Whitman’s Poem

Langston Hughes’s poem that alludes to Walt Whitman’s work is “I, Too,” published in 1926 as part of his collection “The Weary Blues.” This poem directly engages with Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing,” originally published in 1860 in Whitman’s collection “Leaves of Grass.

Explanation of Allusion

An allusion in poetry refers to a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing, or idea of historical, cultural, literary, or political significance. It serves to enhance the meaning of the poem by drawing on associations or evoking emotions tied to the referenced work.

In “I, Too,” Langston Hughes alludes to Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” through the line: “I, too, sing America.” This echoes Whitman’s celebration of American identity and diversity in his poem. Here’s the excerpt from Hughes’s poem:

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

This allusion highlights Hughes’s assertion of his own American identity and his call for recognition and inclusion despite racial discrimination.

Contextual Analysis

Langston Hughes’s decision to allude to Walt Whitman’s poem is influenced by several contextual factors. Historically, both poets navigated tumultuous periods in American history—Whitman during the Civil War era and Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance, amidst ongoing racial tensions and social inequalities.

Hughes’s choice to reference Whitman underscores a deliberate literary dialogue across generations of American poets. While Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” celebrates a diverse, democratic America through the voices of its workers, Hughes’s “I, Too” critiques America’s failure to live up to its democratic ideals by excluding African Americans from the national narrative.

Both poets share themes of national identity, democracy, and the intrinsic value of every individual, albeit from different perspectives shaped by their respective eras and cultural contexts.

See also: Which Poem Describes The Origin Of The Gods In Greek Mythology?

Literary Comparison

Comparing Hughes and Whitman reveals both similarities and differences in their poetic styles and thematic concerns. Whitman’s free verse, expansive catalogs, and cosmic vision contrast with Hughes’s lyrical economy, rhythmic cadence influenced by jazz and blues, and focus on the African American experience.

While both poets celebrate the diversity and potential of America, Hughes’s poetry often addresses issues of racial inequality, social justice, and the quest for equality in a segregated society. Whitman’s transcendentalist ideals and expansive vision of humanity encompass broader themes of unity, individualism, and the interconnectedness of all life.

Interpretation and Significance

The significance of Hughes’s allusion to Whitman lies in its thematic resonance and its contribution to the ongoing dialogue about American identity and democracy. By referencing Whitman’s celebratory depiction of America’s pluralistic society, Hughes both acknowledges the progress made since Whitman’s time and challenges the nation to confront its ongoing racial injustices.

“I, Too” can be interpreted as a statement of resilience, pride, and determination in the face of adversity. Hughes’s use of Whitman’s language and imagery enriches the poem’s meaning, deepening its resonance and underscoring the enduring struggle for racial equality in America.


In conclusion, the allusion in Langston Hughes’s “I, Too” to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” exemplifies the power of intertextuality in poetry—wherein poets engage in a literary conversation across time and space to explore shared themes, challenge prevailing ideologies, and affirm the enduring relevance of poetic expression. Through their distinct voices and perspectives, both Hughes and Whitman contribute to a broader understanding of American poetry and its role in shaping cultural discourse and societal change.

The enduring relevance of Hughes and Whitman’s works lies in their ability to provoke thought, inspire empathy, and foster critical engagement with issues of race, identity, and democracy—an engagement that continues to resonate with readers and scholars alike in the exploration of American literature and history.

FAQs about Allusion in Langston Hughes’s “I, Too”

1. Which part of Hughes’s poem is an allusion to Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing” in the title “I Too Sing America”?

In Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too,” the allusion to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” is directly in the title and echoed throughout the poem. The line “I, too, sing America” serves as a direct reference to Whitman’s celebration of American identity and diversity in his poem.

2. What is the allusion in “I, Too” by Langston Hughes?

The allusion in Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too” is to Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing.” Hughes’s poem responds to Whitman’s vision of America by asserting the presence and contribution of African Americans to the nation’s cultural fabric, despite societal exclusion and discrimination.

3. In what way is Hughes’ poem a response to Whitman’s poem?

Hughes’s “I, Too” can be seen as a response to Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” in several ways. While Whitman celebrates the diverse voices and contributions of American workers, Hughes critiques America’s failure to extend that celebration to African Americans who are relegated to the margins. Hughes challenges the exclusionary aspects of Whitman’s vision, asserting a demand for equality and recognition.

4. How do readers know that Hughes is alluding to Walt Whitman’s poem?

Readers can identify Hughes’s allusion to Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing” through direct textual similarities and thematic echoes. The line “I, too, sing America” directly references Whitman’s poem, indicating a deliberate engagement with Whitman’s ideas and imagery. Additionally, the themes of national identity, democracy, and the inclusion of marginalized voices further underscore the connection between the two poems.

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