Wednesday, April 9, 2008

a dream deferred--the common denominator in life

I have been thinking today about Langston Hughes's poem, "A Dream Deferred." I'll quote it here, in case, unlike me, you have not had a bajillion English classes that studied it.

"A Dream Deferred"
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?

I've always liked this poem--the rhyme, the similies, the imagery, the rhetorical questions, the combination of simplicity and deeper meaning. Today I have been thinking of it because I have been struggling with my own dream deferred. I think, as I posted in my title, that this is a common denominator in life among all of us. I think that at some time in life, and possibly more than one time in life, everyone will struggle with having a dream deferred--be that health, wealth, marriage, children, education--the loss of whatever you had imagined would be your "normal" in life. In Hughes's case, most people agree he was talking about race relations and the dreams of African Americans. You could probably add more to my list of possible dreams deferred from your own experiences.

So, I have been thinking of this poem. But I don't like the outcomes he suggests if dreams are deferred--they can be dried up and hard so they're no longer juicy or valuable or have purpose; they can fester and refuse to heal, thereby becoming constant sources of dissatisfaction and reminders of the dream deferred; they can become rotten and ugly; they can harden and separate themselves from others until they are no longer what they were initially; they can weigh you down; or, as a destructive force, they can explode. Obviously, none of these is preferrable to me. I know that what I do with this particular dream deferred can, one day, make me into a better person, as it has before. I also know that some days will be days of festering or weighing down. Hopefully, those will be isolated days.

But I am wondering, readers (the very few out there!), what have you done with your own dreams deferred? What would you add to Langston Hughes's poem?


smart mama said...

you know i once wrote an essay/ journal entry called packing away the baby dreams when I had my 2nd m/c - I always envision those deffered dream as being wrapped up carefully going in an old trunk like antiques- hoping to be pull out and used later, and when they come back out they don't have the look of something new- instead the patina of age and experience they become more beautiful, more meaningful, more savored with age, although they may be more fragile as well, their years of safe keeping and protection makes them worth even more

bluestocking mama said...

i LOVE that analogy! that's perfect. thanks for sharing.

mwells said...

I don't think the words are necessary outcomes, but a possibility of an outcome. If the author didn't think they were still dreams, she would have labeled the poem differently such as "A Dream Once Dreamed" or "A Dream Dies", yet she chose the word deferred. Yes, like the antique look of patina so the raisin attained its potential by the God given process of a grape's life. And how could you loath the stench of rotten meat without some experience of savory as well. And after such experience (and in time) is not the savory all the more spectacular! My dreams deferred have brought me to the place I am. I look at them as a reason to press on.

I would add to Hughes words; "What will be? Only the dreamer knows."

bluestocking mama said...

oooo, i really like your addition to the poem--i think it fits perfectly and makes it more hopeful than before.

Amy said...

interesting. In all my English courses, I've never heard that poem. I think some things I've deferred to focus on mothering my four kids, have now faded and become less important to me. They don't nag at me to get done like they used to. Will I ever refocus on them in later years? I don't know but for now they don't consume my every thought. At this point I'm content being a wife and mother and don't have to find other titles to add on.