Harlem by Langston Hughes

On the R subway platform going north at Whitehall Street there is a girder whose peeling paint looked to me like a camel; it inspired me to recite Harlem by Langston Hughes although you won’t get to Harlem riding on the R; it goes into Queens. Is it the girder’s dream to be a camel and walk freely through a sunny desert?

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?

The perfectly living poem above is called Harlem though many (including me) often seem to call it A Dream Deferred. Memorize it; it is wonderful to say: actually your mouth is moving but the poem is doing the talking: that’s how free and of itself it is.

Camel in the subway

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.” Langston Hughes

13 Comments

  1. Posted 20 Mar ’15 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Love your poem, Langston!!! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful words. 🙂

  2. Devraj
    Posted 24 Jun ’15 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Beatiful, you have chosen the appropriate words to flow with it in sense……thanks for sharing such beautiful creation….

  3. Lila
    Posted 15 Oct ’15 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    A dream deferred whips around in your body throwing you up against walls.

  4. Posted 4 Mar ’16 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Reading this was akin to a spiritual experience. I’m a poet very much inspired by Lanston Hughes and A Dream Deferred in particular. Thank you for bringing it back to my attention this morning.

  5. Dean
    Posted 4 Mar ’16 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Sorry but it does not inspire me at all!! I must be missing something. It seems far more like somebody using words to show off, than a careful crafted piece of verse, but that may be my failure rather than the author’s.

    • Posted 4 Mar ’16 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      The same day you sent me your criticism, I also got this from another reader: “Reading this was akin to a spiritual experience. I’m a poet very much inspired by Langston Hughes and A Dream Deferred in particular. Thank you for bringing it back to my attention this morning.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think that Langston is an American master using the right amount of words, the right words with the right sounds, natural rhythms and pauses.

  6. Flora Sarker
    Posted 10 Apr ’16 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, touchy, realistic !!!

  7. Sarada Kuchibhotla
    Posted 24 Nov ’16 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Absolutely loved the way you brought Langston before the reader …Lovely sharing

  8. Posted 26 May ’17 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    I was flabbergasted and swept off onto the rails

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