The poem is an interesting one. It uses short, choppy, and jazz-like lines to convey a message about the style of music itself. Readers are likely to be challenged in their conception of what jazz is and what it’s trying to accomplish as they read the lines of ‘Dream Boogie.’
Explore Dream Boogie
‘Dream Boogie’ by Langston Hughes is a short, effective poem about jazz music and the pain of those who create it.
The poem contains the words of two people, one who is trying to discuss the inspiration and pain behind jazz music and another who only wants to understand it for its happy beat. One is a surface level, and one is a more profound interpretation.
You can read the full poem here.
Good morning, daddy!
Beating out and beating out a—
The first stanza of this piece is addressed to “daddy.” This suggests that the speaker is a young child. Or, it could an example of a slang nickname being used. He or she’s asking the listener question that clearly indicates their own interest in the subject. They want to know if he’s heard the “boogie-woogie rumble / Of a dream deferred?.” Readers who have spent any time with Hughes’ poetry before will likely be aware that he wrote another poem titled ‘Harlem’ or ‘A Dream Deferred.’ The poet wrote it in response to what he felt as a black man navigating a career and personal life in a white-dominated world. Here is a quote from the piece:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
While this poem references ’A Dream Deferred’ it is far more concerned with jazz more broadly. Readers should note the poet’s use of short, choppy lines. These were likely meant to mimic the sound and rhythm of jazz music and help convey a particular message. The initial speaker finds the music “happy” but there is something beneath the surface that some people aren’t hearing or paying attention to.
The listener interrupts, asking the speaker “You think / It’s a happy beat?” It’s unclear what the speaker or listener’s own perspectives are but, it raises the question for readers. While some may have come to the music thinking it’s happy, just because it sounds upbeat, this gives them a moment to second guess themselves.
The speaker is thinking about how closely one should listen to the music and maybe about to use the phrase “dream deferred” again but is interrupted.
What did I say?
Take it away!
It’s at this point that the speaker is tired of trying to get their point across. They say they are happy and then use the line “Take it away!” This has a double meaning. First, to take the music away, as if the listener should start mimicking the sounds of the music. Second, that the suffering of African Americans who created the very music they listen to should be taken away.
Structure and Form
‘Dream Boogie’ by Langston Hughes is a short, twenty-one-line poem that is divided into uneven stanzas. Some are short, only one line long, while the longest stretch to four lines. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza.
- Juxtaposition: can be seen in the first stanza when the poet emphasizes the themes of the poem ‘A Dream Deferred’ and the perceived happiness of the jazz music.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “dream deferred” and “sun” and “sore.”
The tone is frustrated. The speaker is trying to have a conversation with the listener but is stymied by his attempts to get his point across. The speaker is unwilling to dig deeper into the music he finds “happy.”
The purpose is to express a deeper, more painful truth underneath “happy” jazz music. The speaker is aware that there is more going on, seen through his references to the “dream deferred” but others won’t hear the same pain.
The speaker is unknown. It’s likely that at least one person in this exchange is not African American, like the person who says “It’s a happy beat.” This reveals a lack of understanding on this person’s part (alluding to a broader lack of knowledge on the subject).
The themes at the heart of this poem are music and oppression. Jazz, the poem suggests, is an expression of the pain and oppression the African American community has and still is, enduring. It’s an expression of the community’s creativity as well, but there is more than that.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Langston Hughes poems. For example:
- ‘Beale Street Love’ – a short, powerful poem that speaks on the nature of love on Beale Street, an African American cultural hub.
- ‘Dreams’ – focuses on the importance of dreams and how they might die.
- ‘Democracy’ – is focused on the fight for equal rights under the law, including the ability to vote for African Americans.