I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
I am a great fan of Langston Hughes. I keep his complete works in my library, and I had hoped to dip into it to publish one of his less well known poems here during Black History Month. I couldn’t.
I try to stay on the sunny side of copyright law out of respect for authors and to keep out of jail. However, I am no lawyer, and copyright law in America is an incredible snarl, so I depend on others for my information. I went to Project Gutenberg, an organization dedicated to placing old literature in ebook format. They are well organized and quite careful about only using material in public domain. They have almost nothing by Hughes, so I googled, which only muddied the picture further.
I like to place pictures as teasers above each post. Other than the ones I have created myself, I get most of them from Wikipedia since they specify (if you click a couple of times on the picture) their copyright standing. I went there following this copyright question and found in Wikisource that:
This work (The Negro Speaks of Rivers) is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.
Most of Hughes work was published after that date.
It may seem odd to worry about the copyright status works by a man who died 52 years ago, but theft is theft, even if you are stealing from a dead man. I try not to steal, although sometimes I goof. I posted Hughes’s poem I, Too last Independence Day, not realizing that it was not in public domain. Of course, you can get a view of many copyrighted works on the Internet. I, Too appears in dozens of places.
I have a solution to this conundrum. Go out and buy a book of poems by Langston Hughes. Buy it for Black History Month if you care. Buy it for the beautiful poetry if you don’t care.
You can even go to a used book store to buy it. Resale of books never puts a penny in any author’s pocket, but it keeps their works alive.