Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes
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poem and the
Rebekah Frye, Erin
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Biography of Langston Hughes
James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin,
Missouri. His parents divorced when he was only a child, and his father
moved to Mexico. His grandmother raised him until he was twelve years
old, and then he moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and
her husband. Next, he moved with his mother and stepfather to
Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes began writing poetry when he was in high
school, and his class designated him as “class poet.” Langston Hughes
achieved his fame as a poet during the artistic period known as the
Harlem Renaissance. Labeling Hughes as only “a Harlem Renaissance
Poet” has restricted him to only one genre and decade. However,
Hughes wrote for longer than a decade. His long, successful career
produced many volumes of diverse genres, and he has inspired the work
of many other African American writers. After Hughes graduated from
high school in 1920, he moved to Mexico City to live with his father for
a year. Hughes’ move to Mexico City inspired him to gather new
insights about race, class, and ethnicity. Hughes returned to the United
States when he ran out of money. Biography continued
It is important for people to realize that Hughes was not only a
poet, but he was a novelist, columnist, playwright, and essayist.
Hughes’ life and work contributed to the shaping of the Harlem
Renaissance in the 1920’s. Hughes differentiated himself from other
black poets of his time because he refused to separate his personal
experiences and the common experiences of black America. He wrote
stories of black people without personalizing them. He wanted his
readers to be able to develop their own ideas and conclusions to his
writings. On May 22, 1967, Hughes died in New York City of
congestive heart failure. In his memory, the street that he lived on has
been renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”
Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Mother to Son
by Langston Hughes
Mother to Son - A message from a mother to her son.
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair- Life has not been beautiful,
transparent, or easy forthe mother. It hasn’t been an easy climb.
It’s had tacks in it, / And splinters,- Tacks and splinters are hazards
that can cause pain, just like hazards in life.
And boards torn up, - The torn up boards represent damage,
obstacles, and hardships in life.
And places with no carpet on the floor – / Bare.- This creates the
image of being cold, naked and isolated. It creates a mood of
But all the time / I’se been a-climbin’ on- These two lines push the idea
of consistency and endurance in life.
And reachin’ landin’s- This represents achieving goals in life. The
landing is a point of triumph.
And turnin’ corners, -Turning corners means trying new things.
And sometimes goin’ in the dark -Going in the dark can represent
courage and faith.
Where there ain’t been no light.-No light represents unexplored and
So, boy, don’t you turn back.-Don’t run away from life.
Don’t you set down on the steps.-Don’t give up.
Still more Interpretations
Still More Interpretations
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.- Because it is hard.
Don’t you fall now - Don’t get weak.
For I’se still goin’, honey, / I’se still climbin’- She is showing her son it
can be done and she is the example.
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.- It wasn’t easy for the mother
***This is not the only interpretation, just the way that is is most
Like most writers, Langston Hughes uses figurative
language to express ideas in his work. In his poem
“Mother to Son” Hughes uses metaphor to convey his
A metaphor is a comparison that does not use the words
“like” or “as.”
In line two of “Mother to Son”, Hughes writes “Life for
me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Hughes makes the initial
comparison between life and “crystal stair in this line.
He continues the poem within that metaphor by
symbolizing the afflictions of life through a damaged
• The Weary Blues (1926)
• Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927)
• Dear Lovely Death (1931)
• The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (1932)
• Scottsboro Limited (1932)
• Shakespeare in Harlem (1942) With Robert Glenn
- Langston Hughes has written a variety of works including poetry,
prose, and drama. We provided a list of popular poems, but our list
is only a selection of his poetry biographies.
Other Poems by Langston