52 Poems and Stories. Langston Hughes

Paraphrases come from The Big Sea softcover published by Thunder Head Press in New York.


"The Mills" was written by Langston Hughes when he was fourteen years old.  In his autobiography The Big Sea Hughes tells about how he began writing poetry when he became Class Poet of his graduating class in grammar school.  He was picked because he classmates believed that a negro would have rhythm

At a young age Hughes was an observer of other people.  For someone his age Hughes had a deep insight into the affect of steel mills on its workers.

"The Mills"
That grind and grind,
That grind out steel
And grind away lives
Of men--
In the sunset their stacks
Are great black silhouettes
Against the sky.
In the dawn
They belch red fire.
Grinding new steel,
Old men.
Poem by Langston Hughes

I like how he comprehended that the men's spirits and bodies were being slowly wore down.  I imagine a life of toiling at endless hard sweaty work.   I can see the stacks he described so clearly in my mind. It was a new dawn spoiled by the smell and smoke of a factory.   One of Hughes' stepfather's various jobs was in a steel mill (27-28).  The fourteen year olds I know don't pay attention to anyone but themselves and their friends.

Be good to yourself or I'm gonna talk about you.



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