About James Mercer Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes, a native of Joplin, Missouri was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He is best known as the leader of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and was one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called ‘jazz poetry.’
Hughes was a talented writer from a young age. Apart from poetry he wrote plays, short stories and published several non-fiction works.
Hughes published “Dreams” in 1923, near the start of his career, when the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ movement was beginning to flourish. This was an early 20th century artistic, intellectual, and social movement that took place in New York’s Black Harlem neighbourhood. Hughes poetry including “Dreams” is said to have influenced and been influenced by this movement.
“Dreams” is one of the many dream-related poems Hughes wrote throughout his career. He often linked the subject of dreams to the experience of Black Americans who struggled against racism and other kinds of prejudice.
Dreams by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Summary and Interpretation of the poem Dreams
The opening sentence in this poem is like an instruction, where the speaker urges the readers to hold tightly onto dreams. He says that if dreams died, life would be akin to a broken winged bird. So, he is implying that we must give wings to our dreams for if we don’t, our life is as useless as a bird that cannot fly.
The poet repeats his instruction in the second stanza when he asks the readers to hold fast to dreams. Here, he compares a dreamless life to a barren field. He says that if we let go of dreams, then life is as useless as an infertile land covered with snow.
“Dreams” here do not mean the ones we have during sleep but the goals or aspirations we have in life. The speaker encourages his readers to ‘Dream Big.’ He emphasizes the importance of these dreams by iterating that if we don’t hold onto them, we are doomed.
Though he does not ask his readers to act upon those dreams, his idea seems to be that having these dreams is more important than having none at all.
Themes in the poem Dreams
The poet expresses hope when he asks his readers to hold onto dreams. He seems to think that without these dreams there is no future for humanity. He attaches so much significance to aspirations that without them, he says, our lives are as useless as a broken winged bird or barren field. Thus, the poet hopes for people to never give up on their dreams or aspirations.
Throughout the poem, the poet speaks with conviction. He is convinced that without dreams our lives will be pointless, dull, and dreary. He seems to believe that dreams can motivate, guide, and inspire people, hence telling them to “hold fast” to dreams, meaning to never let go. The poet not only puts his belief in the power of dreams but also in the capacity of humans to act on those dreams.
It is a well-known fact that some of the world’s greatest inventions started with a dream or an idea. If human beings did not use this power of imagination to define their future, then they would be just victims of circumstances.
It is because human beings have such a creative and vivid imagination that they can envision their futures so clearly. The poet thus encourages his readers to use this power to dream big and never give up on their goals.
Although the theme of freedom isn’t apparent in the poem, we can assume this is one of the themes because this poem was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance at a time when the blacks were gaining recognition for their contribution to art, culture and music.
The poet probably kept these people in mind when he wrote this poem. That is why he urges them to hold onto dreams. In this context dreams could mean the dream to be free from oppression.
Analysis of the poem Dreams
The poem Dreams by Langston Hughes is very simple and easy to understand. The poet delivers his message in a short eight-lined poem where he gives an urgent warning that if dreams die life is not worth living.
The speaker of the poem is not mentioned, neither is the listener nor the person to whom the message is directed to. Hence, we can assume that the poet is the speaker and he is addressing everyone in general.
The poem begins abruptly without preamble. The tone is more like an instruction, directing someone to do something as the poet says “Hold fast….” The poet also uses personification to draw a comparison between holding onto dreams and the futility of letting them go.
The poet’s analogy is very interesting because he compares unfulfilled dreams first to a “broken-winged bird” and then to a “barren field.” A bird’s ability to fly is what distinguishes it from other creatures. It can fly only if both its wings are functionable.
However, if one of its wings is damaged or broken then it not only affects its flight but also its survival. It will not be able to find food, shelter, migrate or protect itself and may die quickly.
In the same way a field that is usually fertile and full of produce becomes barren in winter because it is frozen with snow. Dreams are like this field that must be tilled, sowed, and watered when the time is right because if we let them go then it may be too late to act upon them.
Also, in the second line of the first stanza, by using the word “if,” the poet is implying that the death of dreams can be avoided by holding onto them. However, in the second line of the second stanza he uses the word “when.” By doing so, he is emphasising that no matter how tightly we hold onto dreams they will eventually go. Thus, he is portraying the impermanence of these dreams.
The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB. It consists of two four-lined stanzas called quatrains. Though the poem doesn’t seem to follow any particular metric pattern, some of the lines in the poem seem to be in ‘iambic dimeter’ meaning feet or iambs with a unstressed, stressed pattern.
Poetic Devices in the poem Dreams:
“For if dreams die”
“Life is a broken-winged bird”
“Life is a barren field”
Refrain: repetition of a phrase or line
“Hold fast to dreams”