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I am the man who never got ahead

Posted by ESC on March 01, 2002

In Reply to: Re: Multiple meanings posted by ESC on February 28, 2002

: : : : I'm a little confused when I look closely at the common north american expression "to get ahead". I believe it could mean one of three things. It could mean to progress in life. It could mean to rise up beyond household costs, to stay out of debt. Or it could mean to get out ahead of the pack, to outdo your neighbors or social circle. Which is the main meaning?

: : : I think it's a more modest goal than having way more than the neighbors. To me it means getting some "extra" money saved after living expenses (rent, food, etc.) are paid. If you "get ahead" you have a nest egg so you don't have to live "from paycheck to paycheck."

: : Looks as if opinions differ on what the primary meaning is (see ESC's answer, above, and my answer, posted separately). You might get an even greater range if you asked more people.
: : The American Heritage Dictionary gives two phrases:
: : GET AHEAD. To be successful; attain prosperity.
: : GET AHEAD OF. To pass or surpass; outstrip.

: It depends on a person's financial position in life. Some who is barely scraping by dreams of paying bills and having a little left over. A person who can easily pay for necessities dreams of job satisfaction, advancement, etc.

I was reading poetry last night. Strange but true. And came across this line -- "I am the man who never got ahead." It fits in nicely with this discussion. It is from a poem by Langston Hughes.

"Let America Be America Again," published in Esquire and in the International Worker Order pamphlet A New Song , pleads for fulfillment of the Dream that never was. It speaks of the freedom and equality which America boasts, but never had. It looks forward to a day when 'Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath' and America is 'that great strong land of love.' Hughes, though, is not limiting his plea to the downtrodden Negro; he includes, as well, the poor white, the Indian, the immigrant--farmer, worker, 'the people'share the Dream that has not been. The Dream still beckons." (James Presley at http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/america.htm )

(Too lazy to type so I copied from http://www.plagiarist.com/ )

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN
By Langston Hughes
Let America Be America Again
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Langston Hughes