Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American poet who wrote from the 1920s to the 1960s. He is known as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance (located in Harlem, Manhattan, New York) and for telling the stories of his people in down-to-earth ways as opposed to esoteric language. He worked many odd jobs as a young man, one being a seaman, which took him to Africa and Europe giving him the experience of being on the calm ocean water.

His first experience on the water was in 1922 when he signed on as a mess boy aboard the freighter ‘West Hassayampa’. The rusty ship he had climbed aboard was simply towed up the Hudson River to Jones Point, where it was moored among a large group of decommissioned WWI freighters.

With letters of recommendations from his superiors, Hughes left Jones Point in 1923 and signed on to the ‘West Hesseltine’, bound for Africa. Hughes viewed this departure to sea symbolically: upon leaving the shore, he was also casting off his painful memories of the past, including his experiences of segregation at Columbia University, his many arguments with his father, the poverty of his childhood, and the day-to-day feelings generated by racial prejudice.

The poem ‘Sea Calm’ is from his collection ‘The Weary Blues’, published in 1926. It begins: “How still, / How strangely still / The water is today, / It is not good / For water / To be so still that way.”

In addition to his poetry, Hughes was also a novelist, playwright and newspaper columnist.

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