'Parisian Beggar Women' by Langston Hughes

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Once you were young.
Now, hunched in the cold,
Nobody cares
That you are old.Once you were beautiful.
Now, in the street,
No one remembers
Your lips were sweet.Oh, withered old woman
Of rue Fintaine,
Nobody but death
Will kiss you agian.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Langston Hughes' Parisian Beggar Women: A Masterpiece of Social Commentary

Langston Hughes was one of the most celebrated poets of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African American culture that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. Among his most powerful works is Parisian Beggar Women, a poem that captures the bleak existence of homeless women in the city of Paris. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, techniques, and significance of this remarkable poem.

The Setting and Characters

The poem is set in the streets of Paris, a city famous for its beauty and romance but also for its stark social inequalities. The characters are two beggar women who sit on the pavement, huddled together for warmth. They are old, worn out by years of poverty and neglect.

Hughes' descriptions of their appearance are vivid and poignant: "Their faces are wrinkled like old leather, /Their eyes are gray and cold like stones." He also notes that their clothes are ragged and torn, and their shoes are worn down to the soles. The women are clearly destitute and desperate, and their situation is a sharp contrast to the glamour and luxury that Paris is known for.

The Themes

Parisian Beggar Women deals with several themes that are central to Hughes' work. One of these themes is poverty and its devastating effects on people's lives. The women in the poem are victims of a social system that has failed them, and they are powerless to change their circumstances. They are reduced to begging for scraps of food and coins, and their existence is a constant struggle for survival.

Another theme in the poem is the invisibility of the poor. The women are ignored and overlooked by the people who pass them by on the street. They are treated as if they are not there, as if their lives have no value. Hughes makes a powerful statement about the human cost of poverty and the need for social justice.

The Techniques

Hughes' use of language in Parisian Beggar Women is masterful. He employs a range of techniques to convey the mood and tone of the poem. The imagery he uses is particularly effective, painting a vivid picture of the women's situation. The comparison of their faces to "old leather" and their eyes to "gray and cold stones" is powerful and evocative.

Hughes also uses repetition and rhythm to create a sense of urgency and despair. The refrain "Parisian beggar women sitting on the pavement" is repeated several times throughout the poem, driving home the women's plight and emphasizing their powerlessness.

The Significance

Parisian Beggar Women is a powerful commentary on poverty and social inequality. It serves as a reminder that even in a city as beautiful and prosperous as Paris, there are people who are living in desperate conditions. Hughes uses the poem to give a voice to the voiceless, to bring attention to the human cost of poverty, and to inspire readers to take action.

The poem is also significant in the context of Hughes' broader body of work. It is a testament to his commitment to social justice and his belief in the power of poetry to effect social change. It is a reminder that poets have a responsibility to speak truth to power, to bear witness to the world's injustices, and to inspire their readers to work for a better world.


In conclusion, Langston Hughes' Parisian Beggar Women is a masterpiece of social commentary. Through its vivid imagery, repetition, and rhythm, the poem captures the bleak existence of two homeless women in Paris. It serves as a powerful reminder of the human cost of poverty and the need for social justice. Hughes' use of language is masterful, and the poem is a testament to his commitment to social justice and his belief in the power of poetry to effect change. This is a poem that deserves to be read and studied by anyone who cares about the struggle for social justice.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Parisian Beggar Women: A Masterpiece by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, the renowned African-American poet, novelist, and playwright, is known for his powerful and evocative works that explore the complexities of race, identity, and social injustice. His poem "Parisian Beggar Women" is a prime example of his poetic genius, as it captures the essence of poverty, struggle, and resilience in a way that is both poignant and inspiring.

The poem, which was first published in 1949, is set in the streets of Paris, where Hughes spent a significant amount of time during his travels. It depicts the lives of two beggar women who are struggling to survive in a city that is both beautiful and cruel. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter, which gives it a natural and organic feel.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as Hughes describes the women's appearance and their surroundings. He writes, "Two old women / With ragged shawls and haggard eyes / Sit on the steps / Of a church in Paris." The imagery here is vivid and striking, as we can almost see the women's worn-out shawls and tired eyes. The fact that they are sitting on the steps of a church adds a layer of irony and symbolism, as it suggests that even in a place of worship, these women are still struggling to find peace and comfort.

The second stanza delves deeper into the women's lives, as Hughes describes their daily routine. He writes, "All day long / They sit and beg / For a franc or two / From the passing throng." This line captures the monotony and desperation of their existence, as they are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. The use of the word "throne" to describe the passing crowd is also significant, as it suggests that these women are seen as nothing more than objects to be ignored or pitied.

The third stanza is perhaps the most powerful, as Hughes shifts the focus to the women's inner strength and resilience. He writes, "But in their eyes / There is a light / That shines with pride / And will not die." This line is a testament to the human spirit, as it shows that even in the face of adversity, these women refuse to give up or lose hope. The fact that their pride is still intact despite their circumstances is a testament to their dignity and self-worth.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Hughes returns to the image of the church and the women's place in society. He writes, "And so they sit / On the steps of the church / In the heart of Paris / Begging for life." This line is both haunting and beautiful, as it suggests that even in the heart of a city that is known for its beauty and culture, there are still those who are struggling to survive. The fact that the women are sitting on the steps of a church also adds a layer of religious symbolism, as it suggests that their struggle is not just physical, but spiritual as well.

Overall, "Parisian Beggar Women" is a masterpiece of modern poetry, as it captures the essence of the human experience in a way that is both universal and specific. Hughes' use of vivid imagery, powerful language, and poignant symbolism make this poem a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still hope and light to be found.

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