Dream Variations: Langston Hughes - Summary and Critical Analysis

The poem Dream Variations by Langston Hughes is a nostalgic lyric which poignantly expresses the singer’s wish for a carefree life away from color persecution and racial discrimination. This poem is notable for its musical changes. In Hughes’s own words, his poetry is about “workers, roustabouts and singers, and job hunters… in New York,…. in Washington or… in Chicago- people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten…”.


Langston Hughes

The poet wants to enjoy different types of games in some sunny place. He likes to move and dance until the end of the happy day. Then in the evening he wants to rest under a tall tree until it is dark. This is his dream. But the reality is different. He has to work in spite of the hot sun. He keeps on working as if he were dancing and moving round. Because he is very busy, the day passes so quickly. He feels weak in the evening and wants to have a rest. But his desire to take a rest is incomplete. His desire to find a tall, slim tree remains incomplete in the city. The night comes painfully reminding him that he is black, not white; like the night which nobody likes. In this poem the poet longs for the freedom of a less complicated world. This nostalgic look at Africa was typical of the work of many writers at that time.

The first stanza describes the poet’s dream. He wishes for a carefree life away from color persecution and racial discrimination. In his dream even the night is not black: it is only dark. In the first dream he is not in the city. He is completely engrossed in the rural area. But in the second stanza, he dreams after the tiring day’s work. The dream to take a rest under a tree remains unfulfilled. The first stanza describes his nostalgic feelings which he enjoyed in the past. In the second one his dream is incomplete. There are different types of dreams described in the poem. That’s why the poem is entitled ‘Dream Variations’.

In the first stanza, there are nine lines, but in the second one there are eight lines. In the first stanza we find twenty-two stressed syllables and in the second there are twenty-one stressed ones. In the first stanza mostly we find unstressed syllables between stress ones, but in the second stanza we find two lines where there is not an unstressed syllable between the stressed syllables.” Dance! Whirl? Whirl! … A tall, slim, tree … “This quick tempo matches with the sense. To quote Alexander Pope, “The sound must seem an echo to the sense”.



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