“What happens to a dream deferred?

Updated: Feb 17

This blog first appeared on O'writes.com as Thank You Langston Hughes

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asks Langston Hughes:

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.

O does it explode? (268)

“Harlem:” one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite authors. I admire Hughes's use of simile to create imagery in asking what seems a rhetorical question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Yet, he dares to ponder it, and so should we.

Thank you, Mr. Hughes, for comparing deferring our dreams to such unappealing, unattractive, unpleasant, unsavory, and just plain unwanted images – a dry, sun-cooked raisin; a festering sore; odorous rotten meat, crusty treats, and saggy loads - and forcing us to reflect on our dreams. Such vivid imagery calls us to see deferring our dreams as something bothersome, even burdensome; and this is especially important in 2021, amidst a socioeconomic trend current media calls “The Great Resignation,” where people are resigning their jobs in record numbers as indicative of the major lifestyle changes in our current COVID-19-epidemic-conscious climate (Fox). Penned just over 50 years ago, the four seemingly rhetorical questions Hughes asks challenge us, perhaps, to adjust our perspective: to see our dreams not as dry, but firm; not as festering, but in need of care; not as rotten, but ripe; and not as crusty, but as ready to realize; and here are some tips to help you along your journey:

1) Acknowledge the dream! We all have a dream or aspiration – a certain job or career, spouse/partner, or activity; what’s yours?

2) Articulate the dream! Write it, and make it plain for you and for Spirit.

3) Let it explode! Let it out; follow your dream.

4) Allow Spirit to lead you! Be quiet, seek clarity, and embrace the process.

5) Pay it forward! Your journey to achieving you dream is your testimony; share it, and inspire others, just as Spirit is inspiring you by placing the dream in your heart in the first place.

Now, as we blast into 2022, may the questions Hughes asked us over 50 years ago take root in our hearts, and may all our dreams come true!


Fox, Michelle. “Another ‘Great Resignation’ Wave Is Coming in January, MUSE CEO says: Here’s How to Prepare.” CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/27/another-great-resignation-save-is-coming-in-january-muse-ceo-says.html. 27 December 2021. Accessed December 27, 2021.

Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Selected Poems: Langston Hughes. New York: Vintage Books, 1974. Print.

Dr. Ondra Dismukes is an Assistant Professor of English at Georgia Military College, where she teaches courses in American Literature, World Literature, First-Year Composition, and Learning Support Services English. She's the Editor in Chief for The Linguistique Mystique Ezine

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