Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Langston Hughes's poem Mother to Son


  1. mariah says:

    I have never read naything like this ever before i have read just about every poet you can think of and out of everyone i have read about this poem is with no hesitation and a doubt AMAZING. This is ridicously beautiful.

  2. Debbie says:

    I recited this poem to my daughter and other high school grads. I encouraged them to keep climbing.

  3. Debbie Kelly says:

    I really like this poem. I enjoy talking to my children about life lessons and then adding this poem at the end of our conversation.

  4. Shirley CT says:

    I lay awake early this morning dealing with a major problem in my life, as tears streamed down my face, the words to this poem came to mind. I could not believe how much of the poem I remembered. It lifted my burdens and I wanted to share it with my other friends who were dealing with the same problem. Thank you God for allowing Langston Hughes to write such a simple yet timeless, nurturing poem.

  5. Brooke says:

    I have chosen this poem as my supplementary text analysis on belonging. I find it is quite difficult to find good official poetry that fits to the context of belonging. This poem irritates me. First of all it has almost no rhyme and rhythmn and it only includes techniques such as symbolism and emotive language. Any suggestions for other poems would be extremely helpful, or other techniques and innovative ways I could approach this poem. This homework task is a real struggle for me, I have completed the task but feels like its missing the depth and central message. I cant find anything more than Parental message for their children to have the motivation and determination to get themselves through life in the best possible ways. Please help, thanks,

  6. brittany says:

    i really hated this poem the first time i read it because i didnt really understand what it meant but now that i understand what it means i really enjoy this poem to the fullest.

  7. Charmaine says:

    Langston Hughes said in a few short phrases what most parents want to convey to their children: Keep trying. Move forward, look ahead. Don’t stop. Don’t look back. The struggle to survive well never ends. We want more for our children than we had ourselves. No, my life “ain’t been no crystal stair,” either, but that’s no reason for YOU to lie down! (Thank you, Langston Hughes, for a poem I could share with my son. We both enjoyed it!)

    BTW, who cares about the color of your skin? Life’s struggles affect us all.

  8. Kilie says:

    what does this poem mean?? i have to do a assighnment on this and i can’t seem to figure out what this poem means?? 🙂

  9. matthew says:

    i need more anaylized one.

  10. darwin says:

    the poem………..i deeply appreciated it.. it has interesting messages…..it is good for the heart when tried to internalize….

  11. Rachel Tillman says:

    Langston Hughes has always been one of my favorite poets. I love his superb usage of the metaphor “The Crystal Stair. I’ve referenced this poem many times while raising my son as a single Parent.

  12. K says:

    I didn’t like this the first time I read it, but then we had to analyze like every single word and write an essay on it for school and now I absolutely HATE IT.

  13. HYEH JUNG YOE says:

    Sori my engrish not very good but I just want to say I had thiss poem for my exams and I realli enjoy it.

  14. Dlaine Tan says:

    Ive choosen this for my poetry project as i really can relate to this. The mother in the poem is cares a lot for her son as she gives him advice; and to us too. There are life lessons we can learn from the poem, such as going on in the face of hardships and not giving up too easily.

  15. Reynelda Gilleylen says:

    This poem, written by the great Langston Hughes is an all time favorite of mine and a Legend to African Americans. Like, so any Afrian Americans,(as well as others, but especially African Americans) the Mother in the poem has struggled to overcome various obstacles that could have hindered her. However, her faith and determination have allowed her to persevere. Therefore, she (like Hughes) is taking the time to encourage, inspire and inform her son that life is not always going to easy, fun or even comprehensive. There will be times that one may feel like giving up, doing something wring or just doubting one ‘s self (all which reap poor results) Throughout these times,” look to the hills which cometh your help”…and dwell not on earthly things..for joy cometh in the morning……so be ye steadfast in your faith and strive to persevere and success will be yours. This is a very valuable lesson and the fact that Mr. Hughes is sharing this it is very inspiring to me. I enjoy & admire him for his work and positive endeavors; and I too, will do my part to encourage others (especially my son)….and students that Life for me Ain’t been no crystal stair, neither will theirs but hardwork and determination….failure is impossible. As my dear Grandmother used to say,,,”It;s okay to fall;but don’t wollow !”……Get Back up Again!

  16. stokes says:

    Langston Hughes is a legend in his own time. This particular poem has given me strength to believe in myself and to proceed towards my goals and aspirations.
    Thank You Mr. Hughes. Gone but not forgotten.

  17. marie says:

    this was the best poem i ever read it has been my favorit since 1st grade i absoultly love the poet i can realate to her

  18. TAN says:


  19. Annette Blake says:

    Perseverance and determination are key concepts inspired by this poem.
    Challenges are many, in spite of challenges, we must continue forward.

  20. Verona A. Satchell says:

    A poem in which Langston Hughes speaks to the reader. Poem with supurb use of imagery and methaphors. A poem every student should read. The message can be an inspiration to everyone, regardless of the circumstance.

  21. Jinal Patel says:

    This poem tell us that we should never give up in our life. Life is not easy for everyone.

  22. Daynon Turner says:

    To begin, I would like to note that Langston Hughes is an exceptional writer especially in the era of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem really portrays how he felt in that time period. He talks about problems that come in life but to run away from them. He urges us to confront them and jump over any obstacles. Because, in the end, your gonna get through it

  23. Katie says:

    This poem to me is about how a mother tells her son that you have to live your life and not stop or turn back just because there is a problem. So I think this poem is a good one.

  24. john says:

    la poema esta muy bien porque ella habla de su vila.

  25. jessica colley says:

    I love this poem, and will love to see a lot more of these poems.

  26. Carole says:

    This was read to our minister during a farewell concert to celebrate his retirement after 23 years in our church. There were so many beautiful songs, funny skits, touching remembrances; as well as paintings & poems by the children of the congregation, and other tributes. I was on the verge of tears many times, but THIS was the one thing that tipped the tears over my cheeks.

    We have very few black people in our congregation, we are relatively well-off, Canadian Unitarians. But this poem moves me SO much (I heard it for the first time today) that despite reading in over & over, it wrenches my heart every time.
    THANKS LANGSTON HUGHES. (Yes, I know who he is & his dates, etc.)

  27. carya says:

    I can really relate to this. I’m a college student,mother of 2, and a wife. I have many obstacles. I do realize life for me ain’t going to be a crystal stair. Everythng i’m going through at this time will be worth it. I will always let God be the define desider of my life, and everything will okay.

  28. DONDON says:


  29. Angelique says:

    I think this poem is really good it has help me come through all my trials and obstacles. When I’m going through something I just look back at this poem and tell myself that I can’t give up I can make it.

  30. Tana says:

    I read this poem at an assembly in the 3rd grade. Thanks goodness I never forgot it because life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. But I’se a stll climbin. These words have helped me to not give up.

  31. Diane says:

    What is meant by the metaphor “the crystal stair”

  32. Annie Elder says:

    I’m trying to find the central theme/focus the poem mother to Son. Different stanza’s if there are any.

  33. RIRI MALANG says:


  34. Andrew Sonner says:

    I am trial judge who sees young men before him in serious trouble with mothers who care, who have to face disappointment with their children who are facing jail sentences and diminished futures. The words from this poem come to mind so often as I see those sad mothers in court.

  35. melly says:

    I read this poem when i was senior in high school and i feel in love with it. I am now in my twenties and i an still remember it. This poem will always be with me, it is just great.

  36. Jewel says:

    I had to memorize this poem in 3rd grade….I am now a junior in high school (11th grade) and i still remember bits of it….this, to me, proves to be one of the greatest poems ever written.

  37. monique says:

    The first time I read this poem was in my eighth grade Poetry class. I was enlightened! I read it today which is a year later and I feel the same way or even better! Great job Mr. Hughes.

  38. tarsha says:


  39. Kacey says:

    I have to do a project on this poem, i am in the 11th grade and i am enjoying doing a project for once! i can relate to what Hughes is saying, dont give up just keep trying because the people who have tried have been the ones to succeed more in life. Thats a lesson i dont have to prove it does it all by itself. Never give up, there will be good consequences!
    good luck to all

  40. Bob says:

    This poem would be fine except that I had to memorize it in eigth grade. It is a good one though I must admitt

  41. Deb Royse says:

    This poem has so much meaning for me. Its as though he looked at my life and wrote it for me. As a single mom of four boys, it has been a struggle. I came across the poem several years ago and it hangs on the front of my fridge. But I want my boys to realize that even if things get hard, you don’t give up. You gotta keep on going, no matter what. I love this poem and it will always be an inspiration to me.

  42. cyndi says:

    i really like this poem, maybe because i myself am a single mother. i understand the struggle of life and i know that no matter what unforseen circumstances come up i must keep going, especially for my childern. and i want them to grow up with the same mentality that no matter what happens not to give up.

  43. temple says:

    ths poem was so good i am in the 6th grade and i read this poem in the 5th grade and now i am getting the undersanding of the poem i am not saying it is bad but i ain’t saying it is good

  44. Rose says:

    wow this poem is awesome. i had to analyze a poem for school and i am so happy i found this one. also thanks to anyone who has posted a comment it has been a great help to me

  45. Tina says:

    I have read this poem every year for the past 3 years. Every single time i read it, it moved me. it showed me that life is unexpected and you just have to keep going.

  46. :-/ says:

    OMG…i cant believe this…you people actually LIKE this poem? i red a lot of poems, and i remembered this one because its probably THE WORST i ever red…i’m shocked…people actually LIKE this?

  47. foram says:

    I had to do a poem based on this and this poem is so true!!

  48. Christina says:

    I have had to do an essay on this poem talking about the extended metaphor and the theme of the poem… i’ve been wondering what you guys think on my idea

    i think the theme is determination with a little bit of hurt and anger to show that life “ain’t been no crystal stair”

  49. BIG T says:


  50. hot toddy says:

    I think that making pancakes is like this poem.

  51. Teresa says:

    The first time I was introduced to Lagston’s writings I was in the 5th grade. I am now a teacher, I have introduced my studetns to this great poetry and they love it. Teresa

  52. Matt says:

    I DID A PROJECT ON THIS!!! it was in 6th grade i made a really taterd staircase and a mother and son on the stairs. it was pretty cool. I really like this poem. Really shows how Life isnt al that and a box of chocolates… but u must still go through with it and finish it because in the end its not really bad.

  53. sue says:

    I love this poem, my son is in prison and wants to give up on all hope. I sent it to him and he called crying to thank me ! How wonderful the internet is to give us an opportunity to find such great works. Take care all of you. Peace and Life is good

  54. BURCU says:


  55. Shenna says:

    This poem is what ever Mother wants for their son.
    Life isn’t a rose bed.It is up to you. Made all your dreams come true.Things will get you down. But get back up and do sometime about it.

  56. Angela says:

    Someone asked about the crystal stairs. They represent the good life. Crystal is expensive, shiney, pretty and smooth. The hard stairs with bare boards, tacks and darkness represents the harder life. Symbolism I guess….don’t quote my literary terms!

  57. Meagan says:

    woah! that girl Meagan (comment #51) spells her name the same as mine! anyway, I also was reading this for English as part of my assignment for DSTPs. quite good.

  58. channel says:

    great poem!

  59. Nare says:

    I liked this poem, but I dont understand what the speaker meant when she said that her life has not been a “crystal stair”…can somebody please tell me..thanks

  60. Meagan says:

    WE had a guest speaker in our English Class and she had us do an essay around one of the questions about this Poem. After reading the poem, i immediately fell in love with it. I just wish that all mothers should care for thier children as this woman cares so much for her son. I LOVE IT!!!!!!

  61. dee dee says:

    the poem was great i’m a high school student and most of the poems we as students have to read are amazingly hard to comprehend but this one is talking about how his mother doesn’t want him to quit in life that he can achieve anything just as she has and is continuing to do.

  62. ying -ying says:

    How does the speaker view life?
    From the mother’s message,what canwe infer about her character?

  63. cindy says:

    i need help i need to know who he wrote this peom to, what made him write this

  64. tutu Oltawura says:

    This is one of my favorite poems in ths words, I know all the words to it. I love it so much and the metaphor really made so much sense. The stairs idea really made the poetry make sense.

  65. Francesca Bergenti says:

    I was given this poem by my “sun” which “sings out loud” to me that he has been inspired by MY life and that he has been given strength to hold tight and strong in his own hard times and struggles, through inspiration from me. In that, Langston Hughes gift of poetry has traveled full circle, as intended….a gift my son has given back to both Langston and I.

  66. Mark W. Weihl says:

    My grandfather cut this poem out of the newspaper and framed it for me when I was between 10 and 12. In moving either when I was 14 or 17 (two different moves) it was broken and lost. I have been looking for it since. I did not know the authors name, just “Life ain’t been no crystal stair”.

    Thirty years later it still tells me, keep trying, don’t let your problems get you down.

    Mark W. Weihl

  67. MaghanMurphy says:

    I recieted this alot when I was younger.It delivers a great message and it makes me feel good when I recite it.

  68. Vonda says:

    i am in the 8th grade and i loved this poem it really tough me alot about life and it may be a small poem but there is a big message in it..

  69. Harvey Nagler says:

    I taught this poem at several levels, and always found the responses fascinating. Often they revealed more than I expected. The responses and the poem were inspiring to me then, and they are now as I reread them thirty years later. The poem shows dignity and power of will.

  70. sherri says:

    i was hoping to find on this site a little more insight to this poem. at what point in his life did hughes write this poem? what was the struggle that the son was going through to warrant encouragement to keep going. does anyone know?

  71. jasmine says:

    This poem has really inspired me to mov eon in school because at one point i didn’t really care what/how i was doing in school and so this poem has motivated me to keep moving

  72. sonja jordan says:

    i came across this poem by accident. i am the single parent to a teenage son and i felt it really captured the essence of our relationship. the poem says that although my life is hard sometimes giving up and giving in is not an option.

  73. Mayank says:

    This poem is just beautiful, it makes one to lost in the sea of poetry. I had to choose a poet for my english class and I am so glad that I chose him. His poems are wonderful, can’t have enough words to describe. It inspires one to write, creat something and open the talent which one is hiding for years.

  74. edie says:

    i read this poem over 30 years ago and it still moves me.

  75. Meuriel Adams says:

    I truly believe that we are shaken by the words of many people but from a mother to son it’s a life time. This poem generates that kind of love you can only get from a loving heart.

  76. iris says:

    I’m taking a course on Literature I choose this poem to analyze because it’s very inspiring.

  77. pamela aller says:

    the first time i read this poem i was made to in middle school…..n i loved it….again i was to read this poem in high school and had to act with it. i always told myself that i would read this poem to my son if i ever had the chance…..i have my chance my son was born to me on valentines day of 2001……with many problems…..his little life is what this poem depicts…..dont give up….keep going…….we all get whats due to us in the end…….life everlasting…..to my son mommy loves you lil man.

  78. Alayne Waters says:

    This poem has been carved in my mind since 7th grade. Just recently I decided to look for it, not quite sure who the poet was. Thankfully Langston Hughes sounded familiar. Today is my 24th birthday, and a good day to rediscover this amazing poem. It’s the perfect metephor for life.

  79. joanne sherwood says:

    a powerful piece of literature that explores the concept of physical and mental strength. this is set against background filled with dejection and lost hope.

  80. Carlos Gonzalez says:

    The same as Adrian, I had been looking for this poem for ages, with the only difference that I had less places where to look. This poem left a very deep mark in my soul and I always wanted to have the privilege to share it with my friends all over the world. Thank you Langston for the poem and you at the site for this incredible opportunity!

  81. MONIQUE says:

    I first read this poen in the 7th grade and now that I am current taking some African Aamerican Literature courses I truely understand and appreciate the context of this great poem. Langston Hughes indeed a great writter of his times.

  82. stacey says:

    The poem is excellent but what do she mean by don’t sit down on the steps line

  83. Tha cutie says:

    I have had to act out and memorize this poem and i enjoyed doing it very much. In this poem you can really be dramatic and i love being dramatic!!!!
    Thank you Langston for the wonderful poem and all your others.

  84. Rick says:

    This poem is very intriging, Langston Hughes was a great poem artist.

  85. lea says:

    my english teacher gave it out to our class to read, learn and enjoy it. not only is it a truelly beutiful poem, but there are many literacy techniques you can learn from it.

  86. Judy says:

    I am a mother to a son, I do not have words to describe the magnitude of the love I feel for him. He is 15 years old now and the teen age years have brought some distance between us. I e-mailed Langston Hughs’ poem to him, it is my hope that it will touch his heart. This beautiful poem is the closest I can get to conveying the immense emotion I feel toward my beloved son.

  87. Jalia Campbell says:

    This poem and others Lnagston Hughes has written are beyond beautiful. His poetry and plays are terrific. I love Mother to Son. I first read Mother to Son years ago and I heard about Langston Hughes years ago and his writing still inspires me to this day.

  88. Tarub says:

    I thought tis was good poem. The Poem sound nice in my head. Poem was beautiful from end to beginning. Langston Hughes is the favorite writer now of me!

  89. Ashley says:

    I went on this site for my english homework but got so much more! When I read this poem I fell deeply in love with it! It has so much meaning to everyone; NEVER GIVE UP WHEN SOMETHING IS HARD, BECAUSE OTHERS HAVE BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH MORE! So I want to personally thank Mr. Sharp(my english teacher) for coming up with this assignment! Thank-you Mr. Sharp!

  90. heather says:

    This is one of the best real poems that I have ever read.

  91. Teni says:

    our eight grade teacher required us to memorize this poem or another poem. Although i didn’t pick this poem, i learned alot from it while others recited it. Thanks ms. Blackwell

  92. Lolita says:

    This poem is about an experience an evidence of a mother for her children and a fight for one’s life.

  93. libonessengirl says:

    This is a great poem. We recently moved and at my last school we were studying poetry. My group had to stand up and read a poem, and this was it. Every time I read this, I hear my friends.

  94. Suzette says:

    I think that this poem is very profound. It speaks not only to the olden times but also to today wherein individuals are faced with various obstacles. It reminds us that amidst it all Never Give Up.

  95. Gloria Sutton says:

    I learned this poem in the 7th grade and it became a part of me. When things would get rather rough, I’d find myself- an African American (female)quoting this poem to myself. I’m now married, 40 years old, with two sons of my own. I consider Mr. Hughues’ poem a gift;one that I will continue to be share with my off-spring. This mother’s love and encouragement just resonates in this poem. It’s right on point–“don’t set down on the steps”. We just need to keep telling this generation….if past generations made it–SURELY YOU CAN TOO!

    Loved all of your warm comments.

    Gloria -Florida

  96. Amy Clingman says:

    I learned this poem in 8th grade. I had one of the few African American teachers our district had and she had us learn about African American heroes in history instead of only the “white” people that were in our books. I love this poem and I thank Mrs. Stafford for opening my eyes to real American history.

  97. Etta Harbin says:

    Black students preparing for a high stakes test were given an article to read on the life of Langston Hughes. I was sadden to know that neither had heard of him nor of this powerful poem. In preparation for one test the students have lost time to be exposed to such wonderful poetry. The next session will include this powerful poem that they need so much to build determination and stamina. Thank you Langston.

  98. L. J. Summers says:

    When was the poem “Mother to Son” written? Does it predate the short story, “Thank You, M’am,” which has a similar theme? I find a copyright date of 1958 for the story.

  99. Yoshua says:

    This poem is so powerful! Although it is written from the perspective of a Black woman, everyone can benefit from the wisdom shared. I shared it with my son, 11 years old, today, and we just marveled at the depth of it.

  100. rachel says:


Leave a Reply to Andrew Sonner Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Langston Hughes better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.