Originally Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967) named his poem “Harlem.” He would later change the name to “Dream deferred.” A poem in which procrastination seems to be central. But how do you postpone dreams?
Langston Hughes in 1936.
Image source: Wikipedia.
Who was Langston Hughes?
Hughes was born as James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1901. He was born in Joplin, Missouri, US. He grew into a writer of fiction and non-fiction. And see you closer.
Hughes was born on 1 February 1901. He was born in Joplin, Missouri, US. He grew into a writer of fiction and non-fiction. And see you closer.
His work was a source of inspiration for others. Not just in the United States. His work had a decisive influence on writers in the French colonies and on writers in South America.
It would have been close if Hughes wasn’t going to write at all. His parents divorced during his childhood. In 1919, he left for Mexico, where his father lived, and asked for money to study. He wanted to study Literature. His father insisted that he enrol in engineering studies. He did, but in 1922 he dropped out of Columbia University. After this, he had several jobs.
It was 1924 when he decided to return to the United States. This time he chose to stay with his mother in Washington DC. to live. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Lincoln University in 1929.
“Not Without Laughter.”
After graduating he settled in Harlem, New York, where he would live most of his life. A year later he published his first book, “Not Without Laughter.” This earned him a prize: the Harmon Gold Medal. The Guggenheim Fellowship was also awarded.
Hughes was deeply involved in the creation of the Harlem Suitcase (1938), a theatre company. He was also involved in the founding of the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles (1939) and the Skyloft Players in Chicago, founded in 1941.
His ideas were not always appreciated. For example, he was attacked on his vision of communism. Communism, according to Hughes, could well be the solution to a broad American social problem: racial segregation. For this reason, he chose to show support on the spot (1937) to the Spaniards who fought for a republic during the Spanish Civil War.
He also supported Russian leader Josef Stalin by signing a statement of support.
Hughes has never been a member of the American communist movement. However, he was summoned by Senator McCarthy’s Senate Committee to answer in 1953. After this, he distanced himself from communism and his most radical positions. Hughes has always been a champion of equality.
Hughes died on 22 May 1967 in New York after undergoing surgery.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
— Langston Hughes
About “Dream Deferred”
Sometimes dreams equate to hope. Hope can sometimes be a beautiful dream. When the hope or the dream is so far away, then what? It makes you ask questions and that’s what Hughes did in his poem.
What about dreams that (should) be postponed? Hughes provided the questions and it is up to you as a reader to complete them. Can you do this or perhaps ask these six questions yourself. But beware, it could all be too much (explode). Is that what you have to wait for or do you have to do more than that?
A timeless poem by a special person. That is it!
Hey! Then what about the original title of this poem. Wasn’t that “Harlem?”
That’s completely right.
Harlem, where the Harlem Renaissance began, was the original title of this poem. A poem that incidentally refers to Proverbs 13:12 (a part of the Bible). There the following is written:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,Proverbs 13:12
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. “
With this, he addresses the poem to every Christian in his environment, because he thought they could answer. Why should dreams and hopes be delayed (deferred)?
It hurts (hence the word sore) and meanwhile it is something that “stinks.” It’s long overdue but still hasn’t faded from your mind. In this case, isn’t it better to explain everything as a wish? An ardent wish. Hope can be wishes. Dreams can consist of wishes.
Something that stinks or is rotten may well be a reference to the past. Don’t forget it was only ninety years ago that slavery was abolished in the US. This was a period in history when people weren’t considered the same. Ninety years later, this was still the same in some cases. They were considered as second- or third-class citizens, people who were Afro-Americans.
Would it ever be okay? When you consider that something is rotting, it will eventually deteriorate to nothing. It can also mean that people get used to it being that way and just leave it that way.
Hughes didn’t seem to believe in this. According to him, there this should change. He showed this in his last sentence. It was printed in italic with a reason.
Black Lives Matter
When there is an explosion, something changes. Literally. An explosion of violence will put an end to peace. A creative explosion will bring about a different view of art. An explosion caused by a bomb will destroy things.
The word explosion does not have to be taken literally. An explosion can also be the origin of a movement. A movement to change something. To draw attention to change. Today it is certainly something to think about when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement.
But what about Harlem?
Simple, this was the cradle of where it all started for Hughes. Because he moved there. Figuratively, because the Harlem Renaissance was the impetus for initiating the emancipation of African Americans.