Mother to Son
By Langston Hughes
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” (read by Viola Davis? — some interpretive questions for discussion in the classroom:
1) Does the mother give words of wisdom, or is she stating the obvious? Doesn’t everyone already know that life can be hard?
2) How old is this son? Don’t give a range (that’s too easy)–give a specific age.
3) The mother uses improper grammar and drops endings from words–why should anyone take the mother seriously if she can’t speak properly? She seems to say “don’t give up” to her son, but does the poem imply that the mother gave up on school?
4) The mother says, “Don’t you set down on the steps.” Why can’t the son rest? Why not sit down for five minutes before continuing to climb?
5) Why is the word “Bare” given its own line?
6) Is the mother implying that a “crystal stair” is desirable? (Staircases are never made of glass–foolish idea, right?)
7) “Wise” or “bossy”–which word is more accurate for this mother? Would her words be more effective if the tone were less bossy, or is her tone perfect for this moment?
“Mother to Son” — some evaluative questions:
1) Could this poem be shaped into a sonnet and still work, or is free verse needed for the poem?
2) If your mother said the poem’s words to you at the dinner table tonight, would you roll your eyes at some point?
3) The poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley likewise has a message about not giving up. Which poem is better?
FOR MY STUDENTS–GET A PARTNER, RECITE THE POEM TO EACH OTHER, AND THEN READ ALOUD THIS DIALOGUE SO WE HAVE THOUGHTS FOR DISCUSSION
I studied this poem two years ago in English 9. Why revisit the poem during junior year?
G-Dawg says it is healthy to revisit famous poems. He says we are more mature now, so we’ll get more out of it.
But he says dental floss is edible, so I don’t listen. What else?
G-Dawg said “Mother to Son” is another product of the Harlem Renaissance.
I need reminding. What is this Harlem Renaissance thing?
That’s the name for an explosion among the arts–poems, paintings, music, novels–produced by African Americans. It started around World War I and ended in the 1930s, but the 1920s was its heyday.
I can’t decide if the poem’s mother gives words of wisdom or if she states the obvious. Everyone already knows that life can be hard!
It may depend on how old the son is. If he is young, then her words are perfect. But if he is our age, I want to know if he’s hot.
The mother uses improper grammar and drops endings from words–why should anyone take the mother seriously if she can’t speak properly? She seems to say “don’t give up” to her son, but did the mother “give up” on school?
I agree that this mother is not so great but for a different reason. She says, “Don’t you set down on the steps.” Why can’t the son rest? Why not sit down for five minutes before continuing to climb?
And why does the mother imply that a “crystal stair” is desirable? Staircases are never made of glass–foolish idea.
Maybe we are over-analyzing. Maybe we are missing the point.
If my mother said the poem’s words to me at the dinner table tonight, I would roll my eyes.
If we had time in class, we could discuss whether these poems we read are good or bad poems.
Anything else I need to know?
It’s free verse.
Of course it is free. You can find free poetry on the internet anytime.
No, I mean it does not have a sonnet structure. It does not rhyme. It has no regular rhythm like iambic.
Right. I knew that’s what you meant by free verse.
I like the way “bare” stands alone in one line. The word “bare” is bare.
Stop showing off. It’s annoying.