The Death of the Human Spirit in "Harlem" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn".
Although Langston Hughes's "Harlem" and John Keats" "Ode on a Grecian Urn" were written about 130 years apart and they differ in their structure, they seem to share a similar underlying theme. Both of these poets are trying to convey a feeling of death. They are not talking about a superficial death but rather, a dying on the inside. This is the type of death that robs them of their spirit. To the reader, it is fairly clear to see in Hughes's "Harlem" whereas in Keats" "Ode on a Grecian Urn", the reader has to look beyond the outer layer of the poets words.
In Hughes's extremely short poem, "Harlem", the poet asks "What happens to a dream deferred?" (1). If not for this opening line, the reader might be left wondering what the objects in the poem symbolize. Hughes uses a raisin, a sore, meat, a syrupy sweet, and a load. The "raisin" represents the plight of the black man in a dominant white society. The black man (raisin) refuses to give in and thus turns into a "sore". The "meat" turned rotten in "Harlem" symbolizes the fight of the African American in making their place in the world. The "sweet" represents the satisfaction to be found in an existence full of harmony. The "load" is the culmination of all of these objects. As time goes by, the burden of the "load" gets harder and harder to carry. The heavy burden causes the black man to falter and "sag". Eventually, the immense pressure causes an explosion to the reality of the situation that the African Americans face. .
In order to understand the meaning behind John Keats" somewhat longer poem, "Ode on a Grecian Urn", the reader has to look past the words written to reveal their true meaning. On the surface, the reader might think this poem is light and airy, when in fact; it is a sad tale of lost chances never to be regained. The poet uses his words along with the object, an Ancient Grecian urn, to connect the abstract to the real issue.