Tuesday, April 17, 2012

National Poetry Month: "Beyond the Fog," by Langston Hughes

To Perry Jones, young pioneer of the air

Beyond the fog
There is no mist at all:
Only the great heart of God
Where children never fall.

Beyond the fog no mortal flight,
No mortal danger there:
Only ever-shining space
And vast eternal air.

So do not grieve for one who soars
On everlasting wings
Into the heart of sun and stars
And all immortal things.

O, let there be not mist of tears---
But only eyes of joy
To follow ever the spirit flight
Of this immortal boy.
---Langston Hughes
Kansas City, Missouri
March 16, 1932

What does this have to do with Frederick Douglass? Thomas Perry Jones was his grandson. Jones's parents were Dr. Thomas A. Jones and Rosabella M. Sprague. Rosabella Sprague was the daughter of Nathan Sprague and Rosetta Douglass. Rosetta Douglass was the daughter of Anna Murray and Fredrick Douglass.

According to a biographical sketch written in his memory, the name Perry came from the Perry Sanitarium where his father worked and he was born. Maybe that was coincidence because Perry was also the name of Frederick Douglass's brother, whom Rosetta met when he lived with the Douglasses for a time in Rochester after the Civil War. The memorial oddly did not make the connection between his mother and his great-grandfather.

What of all of the imagery of flight in the poem? Hughes did not simply invoke a metaphor. Perry Jones was a pilot, one of the few black pilots of the 1920s and 1930s. Born in 1911, he came into flight about a decade after the earliest pioneers like Bessie Coleman. A crash in 1931 cut short his career and his life.

Source: Jones, Thomas Perry, “Beyond the Fog” by Langston Hughes,Box 28-4, Folder 100, Frederick Douglass Collection, Manuscripts Division, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

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