Poem of the Month

Poem+of+the+Month

Kristen Quinn, Columnist

In Celebration of Black History Month

Harlem 

By Langston Hughes 

 

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, “Harlem” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates, Inc.)

(https://www.britannica.com/biography/Langston-Hughes)

Context and Analysis 

Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist and social activist from Joplin, Missouri. “Harlem” is a small extract from a book-length sequence Hughes’ wrote in 1951 called Montage of a Dream Deferred. He wrote it in the aftermath of the 1935 and 1943 Harlem riots, which took place in Harlem, New York City, and were triggered by segregation, pervasive unemployment, and police brutality in the black community. The book is meant to be read like a long poem and is centered on the lives of the members of the black community of Harlem, and their experiences with racial injustice. This specific

section of the poem is about the delay that Hughes believed was interfering with the realization of the dream of racial equality. It suggests that the inevitable outcome of deferred dreams is that they will one day confront the world around them which will at that point be forced to meet their righteous demands. 

 

More information about this poem can be found at this site: 

https://www.litcharts.com/poetry/langston-hughes/harlem (Harlem Summary and Analysis from LitCharts) 

LitCharts. “Harlem Summary & Analysis by Langston Hughes.” LitCharts, 

https://www.litcharts.com/poetry/langston-hughes/harlem.