Robert Hayden: Poems

A Look at Point-of-View and Reader Placement in “I, too” and “Douglass”

During the Civil Rights Movement, Langston Hughes and Robert Hayden each wrote poems addressing the future of the movement. Two of these poems, which expressed their hope for the future and for the equality of black Americans, were “I, too” by Hughes, and “Douglass” by Hayden. While both poems address the brighter, better future, they arrive there in different ways. Both poets use very specific tones and voices for their poems, creating two very different experiences for the readers to arrive in the same liberated future. Hughes’ first-person directed poem creates a much more immediate sense of the future, and creating a personal emotional reaction to oppression. The degree of removal in Hayden’s poem, however, allows the poem to be more abstract and passionate, read as an emotional response rather than inspiring emotional responses.

Hughes’ poem “I, too” is written in the first person, inviting the reader into the position of the “I”, to experience the emotional journey of the narrator. “I”, who is revealed as the “darker brother” (ln.2), desires a better place in the future. This is not a distant future, but one that he imagines grasping “tomorrow” (ln.8). The immediacy is shown through the seemingly small-scale victories in...

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