“A Dream Deferred”
by 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?
Until yesterday afternoon, I deceived myself with the notion that I understood this poem, believing it to be a simple outpouring of despair in the face of disappointment. But an unfortunate fall broke not only my arm, but my innocent insight into Mr. Hughes poem. You see, I am a competitive pianist who practices for hours each day. Ever since I began piano before kindergarten, I knew that (alongside literature, of course) it would be my passion. I would not allow myself to play volleyball and such sports and remained the dorky kid who wore wrist guards whenever active, all in attempt to protect my arms and hands for piano. Who would have guessed that I would slip on an empty strawberry carton whilst making breakfast the week of a competition and the AZ Piano Institute camp? And who would have thought that three little words- “You busted it”, thrown out so casually by the surgeon, could be so heartbreaking? Certainly now I know the meaning of a “Dream Deferred.”
But while a deferred dream may be painful to both body and spirit and I confess that I felt that my life ruined as scholarships, competitions, and accompanying gigs fell away before my eyes, there is hope and even purpose to be found in my accident and within the lines of Langston Hughes’ poem. Notice that he does not write anything definite; every line is a question, a mere speculation about the fate of a challenged dream. Failure is not fatal and we can choose how we respond to the obstacles placed in our paths to success. In my case, God blessed me with enough strength to drag myself up and use the time I spent practicing to begin learning a new language and read the books of the AP Literature list so that my ambition does not “crust and sugar over.” I have also been introduced to wonderful people to advise and inspire me, sharing left-handed repertoire for piano so that I now can enhance my musical ability rather than let it “dry up like a raisin in the sun.”
Notice also the final two stanzas. These clearly indicate the overarching idea that there is a choice in the face of a dream deferred. Hughes simply states that a deadened dream may “sag like a heavy load,” burdening its bearer with regret and unfulfilled desire to the point where he or she is too bitter and weary to find a new path. I will readily admit that I am tempted to give up and sit at home crying into a bowl of ice cream for the rest of the summer, but I do not believe that is what Langston Hughes would have done. In contrast, the final line returns to the open-ended question: “or does it explode?” Even in the face of great obstacles, dreams may be realized, if in a different way than we initially planned, thereby “exploding” into a grander accomplishment than possible on a wide, smooth path, free of danger or difficulty. For instance, I had never even considered left-handed piano music, but with my right arm in a cast, I am forced to adapt and may emerge an improved musician. The question presented in these final lines demands an answer: shall we allow ourselves to wallow in the proverbial “Depths of Despair” when our plans are interrupted? Or, will we allow ourselves to acknowledge that though we may “walk through the Valley of the Shadow,” all hope is not lost?
Finally, I leave you with one more of my inexperienced thoughts: A dream deferred is not a dream demolished, a dream destroyed, a dream devastated, or a dream defeated, all of which describe something completely and utterly annihilated and irreparable. Rather, a dream deferred, by definition, is nothing but a dream postponed. Interrupted? More difficult? Disappointing? Yes, but hopeless? Never.