Study Guide

Democracy Stanza 1

By Langston Hughes

Stanza 1

Lines 1-4

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

  • The speaker gets right to the point in the first stanza. Democracy, referred to here in the most general sense of the word, isn't coming to anybody through compromise and fear. 
  • Forget about today, this year, or any year even. Democracy isn't happening if folks are constantly bargaining with one another or feeling fearful about what's to come. 
  • We notice right from the beginning that our speaker is speaking in a rather plain way. No frills, no big words, no super-poetic talk. He's casual (we're just assuming it's a he), but also purposeful in the words he chooses. So his tone might be described here as didactic (educational), but in a plain way. Check out our "Speaker" section for more on this guy.
  • We also notice that the speaker isn't limiting himself to a particular time or setting since he includes "today, this year/ Nor ever." Democracy, no matter what time it is or where we are, won't come "through compromise and fear." 
  • Even though the speaker is keeping things kind of generalized, he does so in order to keep the message here applicable to all folks. So this isn't just an American, black, white, or purple poem. It's every person's poem right from the get-go.
  • The enjambment between lines keeps things plain and conversational, as if the speaker isn't trying to make his poem sound like it came straight out of a professor's back pocket. Instead, the speaker is speaking directly to all of us without limiting his audience in the way that big words, big ideas, and fancy meters tend to do. Check out "Form and Meter" for more how this poem is put together.
  • Let's not forget, though, that we do have a perfect rhyme going on here in lines 2 and 4: "year" and "fear." So, although things are sounding casual, we're also reminded that this is indeed a poem with some more conventional devices.

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