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

Langston Hughes

Portrait of Langston Hughes by Winold Reiss (1886-1953)

Sitting camel in the subway


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

  2. Devraj

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

  3. Lila

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

  4. 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

    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.

    • 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

    Beautiful, touchy, realistic !!!

  7. Sarada Kuchibhotla

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

  8. I was flabbergasted and swept off onto the rails

  9. Thanks. Mr. Hughes capped off my day very nicely.

  10. This is moving Don. What, indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I had been meaning to read this and watch these videos for a while and finally did this morning. Odd that I had just been talking with someone last night about the film “A Raisin in the Sun” (one of my favorites), based on the Lorraine Hansberry play, taking its title from this Langston Hughes poem. I loved that you matched the abstract image of a camel on the subway platform with this poem and sincerely appreciate the opportunity to hear your voice as well as the voice of Langston Hughes reading this poignant poem!

  12. Adam Cornford

    This poem, a classic by itself, is also the proem to Langston’s greatest work, the long serial poem or “album” *Montage of a Dream Deferred*–a portrait of Harlem immediately after WWII, with bebop interludes as well as lots of blues (as always). If you don’t know Montage, you should. In it’s clear-eyed compassion, broad human scope, brilliant musical ear, and occasional controlled fury, it’s one of the greatest poetic works ever to come out of the US, and firmly cements Langston Hughes as the Bard of Black America in the 20th century.

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