Dusk or Hope Happens (Langston Hughes)

Dusk or Hope Happens (Langston Hughes) February 21, 2019


Wandering in the dusk,


You get lost in the dusk-

And sometimes not.

Beating your fists

Against the wall,

You break your bones

Against the wall—

But sometimes not.

Walls have been known

To fall,

Dusk turn to dawn,

And chains be gone!

We can always use hope, maybe more now that at other times, awash as we are in social media highlighting all that is bad, false, and ugly. Worse mayhaps is consumption of the humbug that social media tempts all of us to make and consume. At times, at least for some of us, the light dims.

Langston Hughes Dusk is a hopeful poem written during even tougher times. Dusk sees the sun retreating and darkness creeping over the world.

There is a golden moment when all is beautiful and a person is tempted to go wandering, but walk too far in the woods and suddenly the gold is gone and shadows fall. It is easy to get lost and with my bad vision, not hard to crash into a branch.

I know all of this from experience having been lost at dusk literally and metaphorically. When I was a boy, I got lost at dusk in the woods near Granny’s house, tempted by the last sun of a long summer afternoon. One moment was golden sunset hour and the next a darkling wood.

Which way? I wanted to go home, but suddenly realized that if I went the wrong way, the woods on that ridge went on for miles.

Maybe. Or maybe that is what I thought. I was lost in the dusk and there were no lights but the setting sun. Worst was knowing that I had no idea which way to go and so chances were, walking was making things worse not better. In school they told me when I was lost just to “stand still and wait.” That was what my mind said, but my legs kept walking.

Weren’t there black bears in the woods?


The fear is still there, recollectable, but then I turned a corner and saw the glow of houses and a street I knew. On the other end was Granny, a kitchen, and surely some pie crust baked just for me. This wasn’t dawn, but at the very least the darkness seemed less dark and I noticed the stars.

Hughes is right, sometimes dawn comes and “chains be gone!” This is not an appeal for patience with injustice, but an acknowledgement that sometimes when nothing can be done, something happens and nothing needs to be done. We are lost and then we find our way home. Things are bad and then they are not.

I have been so sad that beating my fists against the wall in the gathering darkness did not seem enough. I wanted to beat my head against that wall. I certainly could not save myself, but Dawn came, the Morning Star, and chains fell off.

Of course, the dusk comes to all of us. There is a day when the news is bad, nothing can be done, no money, no words, death comes lowering down. Yet look up, see the stars, keep looking as twilight goes to darkness.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

And Jesus does.

Dawn comes.

Chains be gone forever.


Fifth grade was not a good year for me, an exile in New York, from West Virginia. That year did have a library with Langston Hughes and a book report on a poet that I had to write. Hughes was a great gift in a hard year.



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