This poem summary focuses on the poem ‘Ardella’ by the African-American poet Langston Hughes. Hughes was one of the main figures behind the Harlem Renaissance. As the name suggests (‘Harlem’ being a predominantly African-American neighbourhood of New York City), this was a movement for self-assertion of the African-Americans so that mainstream American society would sit up and take notice of the unfair, and sometimes even inhuman, manner in which African-Americans would be treated by their white counterparts. A large part of this movement was propelled by the work of artists, writers and cultural critics belonging to the African-American community. Langston Hughes was at the forefront of the group of writers who contributed to the evolution of the Harlem Renaissance.
As a result of his involvement with the Harlem Renaissance, most of the poems of Langston Hughes are political in nature, and they deal with various aspects of African-American experience. In the early phase of his poetic career, Hughes was in favour of bridging the gap between whites and African-Americans, and the creation of a society in which both of them actively took part in equal capacity, and were thus treated at par with each other. His early poems were an embodiment of this philosophical point of view that he had adopted then. However, with the passage of time, and especially during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, his style of writing changed as a result of a change in his political persuasion. He became sceptical and came to believe that the whites would never treat the African-Americans well. Hence, a tone of irony and satire crept into his poetry.
Most of the poetry by Langston Hughes deals with African-American life in a very direct manner. However, some of his poems do not seem to do so. ‘Ardella’ appears to be such a poem. This is a very short and simple poem. It is made up of only six lines. In ‘Ardella’, the speaker speaks in first person, and we can therefore equate the speaker with Hughes himself. Hughes can be considered to be speaking to a girl by whose beauty he is enamoured, and whose name is perhaps what the title of the poem refers to. This is further supported by the fact that ‘Ardella’ was published in its later versions with the title ‘Quiet Girl’.
In this poem, Hughes says that he would liken the girl that he is speaking to with a night without stars. Night time generally has negative connotations, since the darkness is associated with both the degeneracy of the human race and the corrupt practices that it has brought about, and with the fear that is now engendered as a result. However, night time is also the time when the whole world becomes quiet, and human beings can finally rest after a day of hard work. Hence, night time also has positive connotations in its association with calmness and serenity. This kind of ambiguity lends an atmosphere of mystery, and a certain charm as well, to this poem. But returning to its content, Hughes says that the comparison of the girl to whom the poem is addressed without any stars visible in the sky would be justified except for one thing. That one thing is her pair of eyes. By contrasting the dark and starless night with her eyes, Hughes is trying to say that she has a sparkle in her eyes.
Hughes then goes on to say that this girl could also be compared to a dreamless sleep. Generally this could be read as a symbol for death, the final sleep in a man’s life. However, anxiety dreams or nightmares do keep us awake at night, so a sleep without dreams may very well denote a peaceful sleep as well. Once again, the poet’s analogy fails because the girl’s songs puncture the perception of her as a sleep without dreams. Her voice pierces the silence of the poet’s slumber, and awakes him.