The Bigness of Small Poems – # 36 in a Series – Smiling at the Other’s Welcome – Langston Hughes and Derek Walcott

American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Final Curve

When you turn the corner
And run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left

Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) from Poetry for Young People Langston Hughes, Sterling Publishing Co., 2006

Langston Hughes was a celebrated black American poet who was considered a poetic innovator especially with his so-called jazz poetry. But I know him most through his epigrammatic small poems that pack a punch so much bigger than they are.

His poem Final Curve stopped me in my tracks when I discovered it today. What a confronting idea. A coming back to oneself, finally. But I wonder does it ever end, this meeting oneself? Is there a time when there are no more corners, blind or otherwise? When life becomes a straightaway?

Have I turned that corner but walked right by myself only to get caught in more and more corners of self-pity and self-abuse? Or is there a moment already when I have met and recognized myself at my deepest and where I proverbially turned the corner?

Lots, from this tiny huge poem, to consider. Especially on a rain-lashed day in the Northwest, gray in the sky, gray in my brain. A day when I feel, as a poet in my poetry therapy workshop wrote last night: The wave is high. And my soul is cold. Ouch.

In spite of all my questions from the Hughes poem I do find it comforting. Its hope. That before death we each might find a beautiful wholeness. And with that thought Derek Walcott’s poem Love After Love came to mind: its profound comforting:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott from Collected Poems 1948-1984, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986

The solace in both poems. A coming home. A long exhale. I wish for this.


  1. Ross McDonald
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    I guess Hughes means you are going round in circles.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted January 23, 2018 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Or eventually, not! Hope you are warm and well! All best!

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