The poetry of Robert Hayden explores the process of individual and collective social and spiritual transformation in a variety of’ contexts, including contemporary culture, the Bahá’í Faith, black history, art, literature, nature, disease, and suffering. In developing his themes and images, Hayden ‘works through many of the central issues and events shaping the modern world and moves towards a “re-centering” or re-focusing of vision around a spiritual reality. A close reading of a number of’ Hayden’s poems, including “Words in the Mourning Time,” “The Broken Dark,” “From the Corpse Woodpiles, from the Ashes,” “Middle Passage,” “Runagate, Runagate,” “The Dream (1863),” “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz,” “The Night-Blooming Cereus,” and “For a Young Artist” reveals the poet’s concentration on this process of change and growth. In an age that champions despair and unbelief, Hayden’s poems are records of a journey “from Can’t to Can,” from grief to hope, from death to life, from suffering to comfort, from brokenness to wholeness, from the earthbound state to flight. True to his vision of art as “ultimately religious in the broadest sense of the term,” Hayden has created a body of work that eloquently depicts the struggles and achievements of the human spirit.
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