Still here by Langston Hughes is a poem that is grounded in varying grammar concepts to indicate weariness through struggle and clarity after the struggle concludes. The confusion of the struggle is presented in a juxtaposed format, coming just before the certain finale of victory, and the overall idea is that staying strong through the problems is worth that concluding victory and empowerment. You can read the full poem here.
Still Here Analysis
One of the first things to note about this poem—a detail that is clear in these beginning lines—is that concepts of grammar are not the largest of priorities. Given that Langston Hughes could be extremely eloquent in his writing, it stands to reason that this departure from typical structure and organization is a deliberate choice. As it happens, this choice is a sensible one since the purpose of this poem is to stress how “battered” the narrator feels in regard to what he has endured. Just as he feels “battered” by the circumstances in his life, the grammar has likewise taken a bit of a beating.
As well, this also speaks to the level of importance that these more trivial matters hold. Essentially, given how “battered” the narrator is, he does not have the strong or will to invest in something as small as grammar, so more important matters—like persisting among the struggles—are the primary focuses of the poem, with grammar being neglected for the sake of higher priorities.
This grammar detail could mean as well that he has been damaged by the elements of life that have made him “scared and battered.” Like his grammar is less than perfect, perhaps his mentality or physicality is lacking as well due to these troubles. Perhaps he is damaged, and this is revealed in the damaged terminology and structure.
Specifically, there is a missing verb in the first line. What should have been “I have been scarred and battered” is only “I been scarred and battered,” which could hint that he has lost a part of himself or some aspect of his life along the journey. In the second line, what should be “has” is replaced with “done,” which could note a misstep in his journey. As well, “done” means that something is completely cooked, and this could grant the connotation of being finished with “the wind” that has harmed his “hopes.” There is a conclusive note to that idea, as if the “hopes” are so “scattered” that they can no longer exist as they previously had been.
There is no note in regard to what caused this struggle, which indicates the source is not important. Rather, what matters is the noted perseverance. Whatever has caused the struggle and made him “scared and battered,” his focus remains strongly on enduring, and that goal is the aspect of the situation to keep in mind. This is evident by once more returning to the notion of grammar being of little to no concern to Hughes. Though he is “done” and “battered,” he is “Still Here.”
There are noted elements that have caused problems within these lines, but the odds of them being literal are small. It does not seem reasonable, for instance, that “Snow” and “Sun” have caused him the amount of stress the poem is expressing. Rather, these are representations of deeper details, and the polar-opposite nature of the elements show the range of aspects that have caused the narrator frustration. Things cold and hot—“Snow” and “Sun”—have stressed him, which indicates through this expanse of temperature variations that things from all aspects of life have troubled him.
It is also noteworthy that Hughes uses no article—a, an, or the—before the nouns, “Snow” and “Sun.” It is not “the [s]un,” as an example. It is just “Sun,” capitalized and given like a proper name. This shows a largeness in this concept, as if these are not common nouns, but named ideas, just as calling someone by their proper name would be more personal and show more familiarity than just saying “the person.”
These polar opposites in concept have “done [t]ried to make [him s]top laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’.” Again, we see the separation from correct grammar and structure, and it is extended into words that are not quite full. There is no “g” at the end of the trio of verbs presented in Line 8, in particular, and this absence boosts the focus of the poem on the narrator’s struggles against his problems. He is so involved with the process, essentially, that he has not the time or attention to finish his words properly.
Worth noting as well is that it “[l]ooks like” these things happened to the narrator rather than Hughes stating they definitely happened. This indicates that there is interpretation to the concept, meaning this account could be skewed by opinion or too-personal emotions. This could only be the case, for instance, because the narrator is so “battered” and “scattered” that he can see no differently. While this is understandable, it does create a hint of doubt in taking everything the narrator is saying at face value. If he is not giving concrete facts, but instead opinion, perhaps his take on things is not perfectly formed. Even if he does not intend to be untrustworthy, perhaps he is so weighed down by “Snow” and “Sun” that he cannot think clearly enough to come up with an unbiased opinion.
Regardless, the reader can leave these lines understanding that the struggle the narrator feels is real, and that it at least feels as if it were crippling his basic ability to “liv[e].”
These are two lines of the poem that, other than the possible complaint of Line 9 beginning with “But,” have no grammatical errors at all. This indicates that whatever is in these two lines, it is vastly important, and it is the one idea of the poem that does not show burdened stress or confusion. The narrator may not know for sure if “Sun” and “Snow” “[t]ried to make [h]im stop” doing things he enjoyed, but he seems very sure that he doesn’t “care” and is “still here.” While these finishing ideas are but two lines of the poem, their clarity and precision show greater care and strength because of the soundness of their structure and the thought-out quality of their delivery. Because of this, the reader can infer that the struggles are secondary concepts, and the important element is that the narrator has persevered.
By varying his grammatical structure, Hughes has indicated that the struggles can wear you down—showcased in the grammar errors—but strength in the end to persevere is what gives you clarity and success—which is shown in the precision of the last two lines. The exclamation points on those ending lines are final touches to the equation since previous lines ended in periods and dashes that indicate blandness, weariness, and ongoing stress. The end result, however, is delivered with punctuation marks that hint excitement and thrill. In the end, then, if we persevere, that success will be worth the struggle, and it will be joy that makes the perseverance worth it. These ideas, in the end, are the theme of the poem.
About Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was born in 1902 and passed away in 1967. His life was highly connected to the world for writing, and his technique in the field can be noted through poems, novels, and plays that carry his name. He is also known for his work regarding social reform.