"The Ballad of the Landlord" is a 1940 poem by Langston Hughes. One of the best-known figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes was inspired by his own time in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The poem's speaker describes the experience of being a black tenant trying to get his white landlord to make basic, essential repairs to the property he's renting. Instead of making the repairs, however, the landlord—emboldened by the powerful status society confers on him as a presumably white, wealthy man opposite a black man—seizes the opportunity to unfairly exploit his tenant, the speaker.
Landlord, landlord, ...
... Way last week?
Landlord, landlord, ...
... don't fall down.
Ten Bucks you ...
... house up new.
What? You gonna ...
... in the street?
Um-huh! You talking ...
... fist on you.
Police! Police! ...
... overturn the land!
Copper's whistle! ...
... Iron cell.
Headlines in press: ...
... IN COUNTY JAIL!
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
A Biography of Langston Hughes — Learn about the poem's author.
Hughes's Essay in Defense of Black Art — In 1926, George Schuyler, the editor of a black paper in Pittsburgh, wrote the article "The Negro-Art Hokum." In it, he discounted the existence of "Negro art" and argued that African-American artists shared the same European influences as their white counterparts—and were thus creating the same style of work. He dismissed clearly "black" creative works, like spirituals and jazz, as "folk art." Hughes was invited to make a rebuttal. In response, he wrote "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain."
A History of the Harlem Renaissance — Learn about the black intellectual, literary, and artistic movement that Langston Hughes took part in.
Hughes Reads a Poem Aloud — Watch a video of Langston Hughes reading aloud "The Weary Blues," accompanied by a live band.
Modern Day Landlord-Tenant Exploitation — The issues addressed in "The Ballad of the Landlord" are still present. Read about the ways in which poor Americans are sometimes exploited by landlords today.
2My roof has sprung a leak.
3Don't you 'member I told you about it
4Way last week?
6These steps is broken down.
7When you come up yourself
8It's a wonder you don't fall down.
9Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
10Ten Bucks you say is due?
11Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'll pay you
12Till you fix this house up new.
13What? You gonna get eviction orders?
14You gonna cut off my heat?
15You gonna take my furniture and
16Throw it in the street?
17Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
18Talk on—till you get through.
19You ain't gonna be able to say a word
20If I land my fist on you.
22Come and get this man!
23He's trying to ruin the government
24And overturn the land!
30Headlines in press:
31MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
32TENANT HELD NO BAIL
33JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!