Dreams by Langston Hughes: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Importance of Dreams
  • 0:49 Text of 'Dreams'
  • 2:21 Analysis of 'Dreams'
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Have you given up on a dream or are you still holding on? In Langston Hughes' poem 'Dreams,' the author illustrates the importance of having dreams. In this lesson, we'll summarize the poem and analyze what Hughes meant.

Importance of Dreams

The woodworker Geppetto knew all about dreams. In the Disney classic, Pinocchio, he crafts a wooden marionette, dreaming that one day his puppet might be a real boy. Geppetto even makes a wish on a star, for as the song says, 'When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.' Geppetto's wish is granted and the wooden puppet known as Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

For Geppetto, following his dreams meant wishing on a star.
dreams, pinocchio, langston hughes

It's an elementary example, but a good lesson about holding onto your dreams no matter the obstacle. A poet with a similar message is Langston Hughes, whose poem, 'Dreams,' in a short and sweet style, urges readers to hold fast to their dreams. Let's break down the poem and then take a deeper look at what Hughes may have been trying to convey.

Text of 'Dreams'

Since it's so brief, let's read the poem 'Dreams' in its entirety for clarity and meaning:

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.

It's only two stanzas and eight lines long, but 'Dreams' offers some basic instructions to those who read it: keep hold of your dreams, because without them the world can be a brutal world. Let's analyze the poem.

Hughes starts out by immediately admonishing readers with a simple piece of advice: to 'hold fast' to your dreams. These aren't the types of dreams you have at night while you're fast asleep, but rather the dreams of your future, the things you hope for, or the goals you want to achieve.

The author continues by telling us what will happen if we allow our dreams to die. Life overall, he says, is a 'broken-winged bird that cannot fly.' That's pretty dire imagery, isn't it? Essentially, the author is saying that dreams help to give our lives purpose and meaning, and without them, life is harsh and difficult.

In the second stanza, Hughes again urges readers to hold fast to their dreams. In this instance, the author compares the loss of a dream to living in a cold and barren field. Have you ever been out in a cold and barren field? There's no life, no joy, and nothing grows.

Analysis of 'Dreams'

Langston Hughes uses a few techniques aside from the language he has chosen to help drive home the importance of his message.

First, the brevity of the poem itself tells us that Hughes feels a sense of urgency when relaying this message. He has chosen his words carefully and deliberately to help the reader understand the importance of having dreams and holding on tight to them.

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Additional Activities

Langston Hughes' "Dreams" Activity

TP-CASTT Poetic Analysis

For this activity, you are going to further your understanding of Langston Hughes' popular poem, "Dreams," by completing a critical analysis. Fill out the following information about the poem.

Title: Analyze the title of the poem. Why is it called "Dreams?"

Paraphrase: Translate the poem in your own words. Make sure you explain each line of the poem.

Connotation: Analyze any figurative language in this poem. Pay close attention to Hughes' use of imagery and metaphor.

Attitude/Tone: What is the author's attitude throughout the poem? Use evidence from the poem to support your response.

Shifts: Are there any major changes in the author's attitude? If so, explain.

Title: Reexamine the title. Now that you have critically analyzed the poem, has your interpretation of the title changed? Explain.

Theme: Briefly explain what the subject of the poem is, and then determine the major theme(s) of the poem.

Example response:

Title: This poem is about the importance of having dreams.

Paraphrase:

  • "Hold fast to dreams" means 'don't let go of your dreams.'
  • "For if dreams die" means 'because when you give up on your dreams...'
  • "Life is a broken-winged bird" means 'life becomes hopeless.'
  • "That cannot fly" means 'life without dreams is as sad and tragic as a bird that can't fly.'
  • "Hold fast to dreams" means 'don't let go of your dreams.'
  • "For when dreams go" means 'because if you give up on them...'
  • "Life is a barren field" means 'life becomes a place of hopelessness and emptiness.'
  • "Frozen with snow" means 'like a cold and permanent place.'

Connotation: Hughes uses two powerful images in his poem. First, he describes a bird with a broken wing. Next, he depicts an empty and cold field. Both of these images act as metaphors comparing a life without dreams to a bird that can't fly and an empty/cold field.

Attitude/Tone: The overall tone is fairly somber due to Hughes' depressing images of a "broken winged-bird" and a "barren field."

Shifts: There is no major shift.

Title: If you let go of your dreams, your life will be sad and hopeless.

Theme: The poem is about holding on to dreams, and the theme is similar. Don't let go of your dreams.

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