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Callaloo 25.4 (2002) 1101-1113

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Poems Written In Soviet Uzbekistan, 1932-33
From the 1934 Uzbek Translation of S.[anjar] Siddiq Prepared in English by Kevin Young, from the notes of Muhabbat Bakaeva

Langston Hughes


As described in my essay elsewhere in this special Langston Hughes section of Callaloo, in 1932 and 1933 Hughes lived for about five months in then-Soviet Central Asia. While there, the State Publishers of the Uzbek S.S.R. commissioned a volume of fifty Hughes poems to be translated into Uzbek. The translator was the noted literary figure Sanjar Siddiq. The first thirty of the poems were from Hughes' 1926 book The Weary Blues. Of the remaining twenty (divided in Uzbek into sections called "Negro Toilers" and "For the Revolution"), ten were sourced from various prior publication venues, such as The Crisis, Opportunity, and New Masses. Another three appeared later in such venues, and yet another can be found in typescript at the Beinecke Library at Yale.

Six poems, however, have no known English-language source—thus for American readers they are new poems by Langston Hughes. Here we present five of them re-interpreted back into English (along with the one that exists in English only in typescript). The "original" Uzbek versions are indeed by Sanjar Siddiq. Muhabbat Bakaeva of the Department of English Philology at the University of Bukhara transliterated these versions back into English, and poet Kevin Young reworked Ms. Bakaeva's transliterations into poetic form. The result, of course, is not strictly "what Hughes wrote," which is unrecoverable. We trust, however, that the result richly stands in dialogue with Langston's known poems, and will add new dimension to our understanding of Hughes and his art in the tumultuous internationalist decade of the 1930s.

—David Chioni Moore [End Page 1101] [Begin Page 1103]

Mason-dixon Line

after Langston Hughes
Uzbek Poem 31

Over there stands Sir,
of all you see before—
cane, cotton, corn.

And over here
backs of Negroes bend
to worn knees, picking,
hands dirtied,

Copyright © Kevin Young, 2002. [End Page 1103] [Begin Page 1105]

A Negro Speaks of War

after Langston Hughes
Uzbek Poem 38

Now, I'm fed up
with all your wars—
I won't go. White folks
who can't defend
themselves knocking

down my door for help.
This time, No. I won't
help you. You give me
guns to fight
your wars. What for?

When I want
to defend myself
you say "I don't think so!"
"No." You flash badges
and bayonets

against me, then.
That'll do! Enough!
I won't fight
you—but if ever I do,
it'll only be for freedom

for the Negro.

Copyright © Kevin Young, 2002. [End Page 1105] [Begin Page 1107]


after Langston Hughes
Uzbek poem 42

Centuries went and came,
But the world stayed the same:
Hunger and hate;
Rich folks' pride
Keeping poor folks shy.
Rulers remain cruel;
Law means jail.
Life at a boil—
The owners spoiled
And beating you, blue.

Then October
Came to clean
The world's shoes,
To purify
The mercenary minds.
Look: here
Is a country
Where everyone shines,
Stomachs full
From their arms' toil.
Under the Soviet sun,
The land keeps on
Growing and won't quit
Till the Revolution
Stops the world's turning.

Copyright © Kevin Young, 2002. [End Page 1107] [Begin Page 1109]

After War

after Langston Hughes
Uzbek Poem 46

The walls that kept apart
Our countries—
Trenches and front lines
And borders

Are all gone. Above,
Only one flag remains,
As life's blood.

The world's owners
Live off the worker's shoulders—
War comes out their quarrels
And won't end

Till the owners fade—
Then peace will bloom, awake.
The red banner will ban all naivete,
So the world's workers can see. [End Page 1109]

Ballad of the Bootblack

after Langston Hughes
Uzbek poem 47

While passing through Alabam,
We stopped...


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