what dreams may come

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

I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately. I was reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folks last week, and there’s a line of it I can’t get out of my head–describing Atlanta, he writes, “It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream…”

That made me think of Hughes, and also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech, and the line of Fitzgerald’s about Gatsby, “(He) paid a high price, living too long with a single dream.”

Du Bois is talking about the “untrue dream” of the confederacy–the untrue dream of white supremacy. But it made me wonder what other untrue dreams our society, our country is haunted by these days.

Is it a “truthful dream” that everyone can get rich, if they just work hard? Is is a “truthful dream” that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed here, regardless of their immigrant status, race, religion, gender, economic class or sexual orientation? I don’t think those dreams are truthful. I think they’re the untrue dreams that our country is haunted by today. And I think they’re leading in an awful lot of instances to the deferred dream of Hughes’ poem.

But not always.


April 26, 2005. politically motivated.


  1. Chip replied:

    Very nice post. Unfortunately I fear that at least half of this country is living not just in an untrue dream but in a total fantasy land. That is especially true on issues like race, poverty, etc.

    And people can live in those untrue dreams because they are living in bubbles: physically, in their gated communities and socio-economically segregated neighborhoods; informationally, in the fantasy lands presented as reality by Fox News, CNN and the rest of mainstream media; politically, where the focus of politics is no longer on social justice but on winner-take-all…

    If there’s hope it’s from the fact that lots of people have real dreams that are based on the realities that they are living and striving to achieve.

  2. Jessica replied:

    Great post, BBSP…and I agree with every word. It really does feel sometimes as if we are being sold a bill of goods.

    I adore Langston Hughes – my favorite (typed from memory – probably not 100% accurate):

    My old man was a white old man
    and my old mother’s black
    If ever I cursed my white old man,
    I take my curses back
    If ever I cursed my black old mother
    and wish she were in hell
    I’m sorry for that evil wish
    and now I wish her well
    My old man died in a fine white house
    My maw died in a shack
    I wonder where I’m gonna die
    being neither white nor black

  3. landismom replied:

    Chip, I think you are right on about people living in a bubble–although the bubble is made out of a one-way mirror, in my experience. The people living inside it can’t see out, but they can be seen from the outside.

    Jessica, that’s a great one too. I’m amazed by how much of Hughes’ work is still so immediately relevant in our country.

  4. Chip replied:

    Great observation about the one-way mirror lm, I think you’re totally right about that one.

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