BALLAD OF THE LANDLORD
By Langston Hughes
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don't you 'member I told you about it
Way last week?
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It's a wonder you don't fall down.
Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
Ten Bucks you say is due?
Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'll pay you
Till you fix this house up new.
What? You gonna get eviction
You gonna cut off my heat
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?
Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on--till you get through.
You ain't gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.
Come and get this man!
He's trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!
Headlines in the press:
MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL
JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL
This poem is another classic depiction of racial struggles, as is typical of Langston Hughes
. The tenant is upset that he is living in shabby conditions and refuses to pay his rent. The landlord threatens to evict the tenant, and the tenant responds by threatening to hurt the landlord. The landlord immediately calls the police, and the tenant is thrown in jail. The unsympathetic headlines make it seem like the tenant is at fault.
For some reason, this reminded me of La Putain Respecteuse
, perhaps because I had just been on a Sartre
binge. Both are scathing descriptions of racial oppression. Here, the full power of Hughes' voice is heard.
There appear to be three main speakers in this poem: the tenant, the landlord, and an "outside observer." All of the speakers are nameless, implying that such events happen universally.
Some of the landlord's words are only implied in this poem, as the tenant appears to be responding. This serves to focus all of the reader's attention on the tenant and his struggles in the first half of the poem so the reader feels sympathy for the tenant when he is thrown in jail. The landlord, indicated by italics, has only one stanza for himself, and the reader has only the narrow image of this landlord as a greedy racist
. The "outside observer" carries a much flatter tone and does not even speak in complete sentences; the words "emotionless android
" come to mind.
Hughes's tone, however, is bitter to the end. The tenant is mistreated by the landlord, the police, the court, and the media. This is a world where blacks are alone and friendless.
I get the feeling this poem is structured musically. I suppose it's no suprise, since it is, after all, a "ballad." The verse comes out very rhythmically, and the poem is structured like a song; the story builds escalates upward before resolving in a sense of eerie calm.
I don't pretend to be an expert on Langston Hughes, so if you feel the need to correct me, please do. I just thought this was a good poem.