President John F. Kennedy once said that artists play a special role in a society. They contribute “not to our size [as a nation] but to our spirit; not to our political beliefs but to our insight; not to our self-esteem but to our self-comprehension.”1 Langston Hughes and Robert Frost are among the many American poets who have reflected on the choices we make as individuals and as citizens.
I Dream a World
by Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head,
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind.
Of such I dream, my world!2
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.3
- 1 : President John F. Kennedy, “Remarks at Amherst College,” October 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, (accessed on August 7, 2007).
- 2 : Langston Hughes, “ I Dream a World,” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 311.
- 3 : Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” Selected Poems of Robert Frost (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.), 71–2.