Still Water, Calm Twilight, and Langston Hughes

Sea Calm

By Langston Hughes


How still,

How strangely still

The water is today,

It is not good

For water

To be so still that way.

Before achieving notoriety as a poet, Langston Hughes went to sea on freighters. (His adventures involved a bit of a false start, when he started out on a dockside freighter bound for nowhere—the ship served as a boarding house of sorts for sailors. But eventually, he did spend some of his youth on the oceans of the world.)

Of course, Mr. Hughes used his poetry to speak on racism, social-justice issues, and the wicked hurts of life, and with his true knowledge of the sea, a piece like “Sea Calm” carries authority in multiple ways. Even on the surface, it speaks so truly of those thick, disquieting hours before a storm....

I like to read Langston Hughes, even as I recognize I cannot fully comprehend him. And tonight, with the docks hushed and unbusy, with a deep-dish pizza in the oven in the cabin, with the moon rising over the waterfront condos surrounding the marina, with the water so very flat, I think of “Sea Calm.”

Tonight, the poem does not fit. Tonight, the water is still in a good way. A very good way. Yet I can’t help but think of Mr. Hughes’s lines. Because they are beautiful ... like tonight.

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