“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

This poem is on page 67 of our handy dandy “Poems of New York” book. The poem is written by the Langston Hughes and it goes like this:

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?

I saw this poem and immediately recognized the first three lines of the poems. They are famous phrases that I immediately associate with Langston Hughes (as well as the “Life ain’t no crystal stairs” from Hughes’ “Mother to Son”). In the poem, Hughes is questioning what happens to a person’s dreams when it is halted. Hughes is talking about the progress of African-Americans, which is subject to White oppression in the early 20th century. In my 10th grade English class, I remember seeing Lorraine Hansberry’s film “A Raisin in the Sun”, which obtain its name from this poem. The film focuses around the lives of a black family in Chicago who strives to get rich, but their “dream is deferred”. The poem is short, crisp and to the point, yet powerful and has a deep meaning behind it, which I think makes it a good poem to go over in class.


~Christopher Chong

One thought on ““Harlem” by Langston Hughes

  1. Hi Chris,
    I’m really glad you picked this poem. I agree with all of your points, but I do wonder why the poem is called ‘Harlem.’ Is it social commentary by Hughes on what Harlem does to a person’s dreams? That it perhaps halts them, defers them? I’ve been pondering this for a while now.

    What could it mean?!

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