Aunt Sue’s Stories
James Mercer Langston Hughes started writing very early. The works that came from his pen from 1920 till his death in 1967 is prolific. He has written two autobiographies. He published three collections of short stories, sixteen volumes of poetry. Apart from this he wrote almost twenty plays and wrote many scripts for television, radio and films. Hughes also translated works of Jacques Roumain, Federico Garcia Lorca and Nicolas Guillen. Along with this he had regular correspondence with fans, friends and publishers. He wrote a lot for the Harlem Renaissance and for jazz music. All this was done even as he was travelling and had a short stay in Paris. He died on May 22nd, 1967.
The poem ‘Aunt Sue’s Stories’ is believed to be about his grandmother Mary Langston who was a powerful influence in his life. He had heard a lot of stories from his grandmother and he brings some of them into this poem. Aunt Sue’s head and heart were full of stories. She would sit on the porch and cuddle the ‘brown-child’ and tell him all the stories. The stories were about black people working day and night. They would sing sad songs on the banks of a river and their songs mingle with the sound of the river. Aunt Sue’s voice also mingled with the sounds around and as she said the stories the shadows kept crossing.
The dark faced child was an attentive listener and knew that his aunt’s stories were real; she never imagined any of them or got them from any book. They were her own experiences, stories from her life. Knowing that all her sad stories are true the child who was cuddling in her bosom lay quiet listening to it on that summer night.
‘Aunt Sue’s Stories’ is poem with twenty-five lines in four stanzas with varying number of lines in each satnza. All of Hughes poems are written to be tuned to music, so there are repetitions of lines. In this poem there are minor changes in the repetitive lines, like this
Aunt Sue has a head full of stories.
Aunt Sue has a whole heart full of stories.
The imagery of ‘black slaves’ is created very strongly with these words. The lines are odes to the African Americans who had suffered a lot for generations. The imagery of ‘brown-faced’ child is an allusion to the mixing of African and American people.The blacks had now become browns. Then he refers to the child as dark, not mentioning if it was black or brown. It did not matter anymore; the suffering continued, colour notwithstanding. The images of ‘hot sun’, ‘dewy night’ and ‘mighty river’ are also beautifully put by Hughes. The slaves sing sorrowful songs and that mingles with the sounds of the river. This can mean that their voices were drowned by more powerful voices. The stories were the pain of the soul. He knew from the aunt’s (grandmother) story telling that the fact was they were not a fiction of imagination which is what the story tellers do, imagine. Her stories were from her experiences and they were hard facts. It is Langston Hughes’ style to pack a lot in few words and that is true for this poem, ‘Aunt Sue’s Stories’ as well.