Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
The rhythm of their music has lost its strength in the course of time. But this song has been inspired by the collective unconscious of his race. He longs for his ancestral home, which he thinks is impossible to live in. And he is not properly respected in the lands of the whites. That is why he feels that he has been dislocated.
In the 17th century Africans were sold as slaves in America. The poet’s forefathers may have been brought to America more than three hundred years age. So he finds Africa very far in time and in place. Black Americans do not remember anything about their past. They know what history books have told them and what their ancestral songs have evoked in their minds. Unfortunately, the songs are not sung in an African language. They are sung in a strange un-Negro tongue that is in American English. The rhythm of the songs has been weakened in the course of time.
However, this song is inspired by the folksiness of American Negroes. This song is the expression of the collective unconscious of the race. This song brings back the memory of Africa, which is a mere dream for the American Negroes. They have not been properly treated in the land of the whites and they can’t now go back to Africa. So they feel that they have been dislocated. Africa is the unknown place for them.
“Some vast mist of race” is an example of metaphor. The black race has been compared with the mist which has covered a large area and which is difficult to understand. More than that it means, millions of African people living in America formerly as slaves and later as free citizens and they have tried to preserve their ancestral heritage in the form of folk songs. They have forgotten the African language, but the tradition has been retained in the un-Negro tongue. To use Carl Jung’s phrase, it is the collective unconscious of the black Americans. “So long / So far away / Is Africa” is a refrain. It has added to the intensity of feeling. In the concluding lines, the refrain has been modified to express his attitude to Africa, which is now dark and obscure. The poet feels dislocated in white America because the blacks are not properly respected. They are treated as non-human. Negros in America can’t go to their ancestral home Africa. It makes the poet’s feeling clear that Africa is not only far away, but also very difficult to understand because of its dark face. So poet feels that he has been lost without a place.
The poem is a fragment, that is, a part which is broken off, detached or incomplete. It represents his feelings of dislocation. His forefathers were brought into America from Africa as slaves and in America he is not properly treated. He feels that he is neither an American nor an African. He is only a part detached from both Africa and America. “This song of atavistic land,” in the poem means that the song was originated in Africa. It had been unseen for many generations, but it has reappeared in the poet’s mind. This song sings the glorious past of the Afro-American people in their native land in Africa. When the black people sing this song they remember their spirituals and they feel very proud of their happy past and their free life.
Sharma, K.N. "Afro American Fragment by Langston Hughes: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 12 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/afro-american-fragment.html.