Langston Hughes wrote “Harlem” in 1951 as part of a book-length sequence, Montage of a Dream Deferred. Inspired by blues and jazz music, Montage, which Hughes intended to be read as a single long poem, explores the lives and consciousness of the black community in Harlem, and the continuous experience of racial injustice within this community. “Harlem” considers the harm that is caused when the dream of racial equality is continuously delayed. Ultimately, the poem suggests, society will have to reckon with this dream, as the dreamers claim what is rightfully their own.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry ...
... And then run?
Does it stink ...
... a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just ...
... does it explode?
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Essay From the Poetry Foundation — Read more about "Harlem" in this essay by Scott Challener at the Poetry Foundation.
Letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Hughes — Read a letter from Martin Luther King, Kr. to Langston Hughes, which includes a reference to a performance of Lorraine Hansberry's play “A Raisin in the Sun."
"Harlem" Read Aloud by Langston Hughes — Listen to Langston Hughes read "Harlem."
Full Text of "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" — Read Langston Hughes’s 1926 essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain."
The Harlem Renaissance — Learn more about the Harlem Renaissance from the History Channel.
Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King, Jr. — Read about how Langston Hughes influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., including the influence of "Harlem."
1What happens to a dream deferred?
2 Does it dry up
3 like a raisin in the sun?
4 Or fester like a sore—
5 And then run?
6 Does it stink like rotten meat?
7 Or crust and sugar over—
8 like a syrupy sweet?
9 Maybe it just sags
10 like a heavy load.
11 Or does it explode?