Off to Sea


Ashley Bryan (1923–2022)
Water-Front Streets (from Sail Away), 2015
Collage of cut colored papers with graphite and printed text mounted on a tracing paper overlay
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of the Ashley Bryan Center; 2021.25:5

Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. (p) 1955. Used by permission.
© 2022 The Ashley Bryan Center. Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved


Sandy Campbell: In this recording, Langston Hughes describes going to sea as a young man and recites two of the poems that came out of that experience, “Water Front Streets” and “Long Trip.”

Langston Hughes: Once one of my dreams was to cross the Atlantic and see the world on the other side. So as a young man, I went down to the waterfront in New York and I began to try to get work as a seaman on the boats. The streets facing the piers were wide, busy, old dirty streets. Although it was spring, there were no trees or flowers, only warehouses and dark fronts and cobblestones and trucks. It was then that I wrote this poem called “Water Front Streets.” The spring is not so beautiful there. But dream ships sail away to where the spring is wondrous rare and life is gay. The spring is not so beautiful there, but lads put out to sea, who carry beauties in their hearts and dreams, like me.

Certainly one of my dreams then was to work my way across the ocean. That dream came true. I found a job on a freighter going to Africa. It took almost three weeks to cross the Atlantic from New York to Dakar in Senegal. One of my first poems about the ocean was this one called, “Long Trip.” The sea is a wilderness of waves, a desert of water. We dip and dive, rise and roll, hide and are hidden on the sea. Day, night, night, day. The sea is a desert of waves, a wilderness of water.