Langston Hughes

Dream Variations by Langston Hughes

‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes details two slightly different dreams a Black speaker has as he is confronted with the “white day.”

This well-known poem was published in Hughes’ best-known collection, The Weary Blues, released in 1926. The speaker alludes to his “dreams,” a very common theme in Langston Hughes’ writing, and how they relate to his ideal world/goals for the future. The poem asks readers to imagine a world in which a Black man, or any Black man, woman, or child, is free to enjoy the “white day” and “black night” without fearing for their safety or being afraid to share themselves openly.

Dream Variations by Langston Hughes



Summary 

‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes is a thoughtful poem about the future and a single speaker’s dreams for his life and the lives of his community members. 

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by describing how they have a dream of spreading their arms in sunlight and relaxing in the cool air of evening. Then, when night arrives, they feel connected to the darkness as they are dark themselves. This is their hope for the future. The second stanza is similar to the first in that it provides readers with the same images. But, the second stanza is an even more peaceful version of the speaker’s dream.

You can read the full poem here

Meaning 

‘Dream Variations’ speaks on two slightly different dreams the speaker envisions. They may look similar at first glance, but there is a distinct difference between them. In the second, the speaker describes having the ability to rest in the evening and at night (while he could only rest at night in the initial dream). This second variation suggests that the speaker sees a dream world in which he is free to be who he is and enjoy a life free of racial oppression at night and during the day. 

Themes 

  • Racism: is seen through the two sides of the dream, the white day and the dark night, as well as the speaker’s “dream.” Through his dream, he separates himself from a world in which he is made to feel as though he doesn’t belong. He’s dreaming of a place where he’s free from this oppression. He hopes to, in the future, express himself freely in the “white day” and then find peace in the dark night. 
  • Dreams: are one of the most important themes in this poem and in Langston Hughes’ work more broadly. The speaker describes a dream in which he is taking pleasure in the natural world, feeling at peace, and then enjoying the darkness of the night. His dreamworld can be read as a metaphor for a reality in which he, and Black men and women around the United States, do not have to deal with racial oppression or inequality. As the speaker does in his dream, they can enjoy life fully and peacefully. 

Structure and Form

‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of nine lines and one set of eight. The poem changes end rhymes several times. The first four lines rhyme ABCB followed by DEFEG. The second stanza is similar and uses some of the same rhyming words, for example, “tree,” “me,” and “sun.” 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “In,” which starts line two of both stanzas, as well as “To fling my arms,” which starts both stanzas. “Till” is also used multiple times at the beginning of line four of both stanzas. 
  • Repetition: can be seen when the poet repeats an element. For example, “To fling my arms wide” begins both stanzas. Specific words like “whirl,” “dance,” and “day” are also repeated.
  • Caesura: occurs when the writer inserts a pause in the middle of a line. This can be accomplished through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Dance! Whirl! Whirl!”

Figurative Language 

  • Metaphor: a comparison that does not use “like” or “as.” For example, the speaker’s “dreams” are a metaphor for Black happiness, success, and general equality. 
  • Imagery: a particularly interesting description that allows the reader to imagine a scene in clear detail. For example, “In some place of the sun, / To whirl and to dance.”


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

    Dark like me—

That is my dream!

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker begins by laying out some of the parts of the dream he’s striving for. He hopes to find a place in the future where he can walk through the light of day, the “white day” (or the racist everyday world he’s living in), and express himself fully. He doesn’t want to feel oppressed by white society’s idea of who he is and their inability to accept him fully. 

The poet uses images in these lines to help readers envision how his speaker hopes to see and live in the world. He imagines defying the “white day” that always oppressed him and embracing the world energetically and happily. At the end of both stanzas, the speaker transitions into speaking about the night. 

He describes how the “night comes on gently” in this dream of his, and it is “Dark like me.” It provides him with a place to rest, free (again) from oppression and fear. The night symbolizes the Black community and the happiness the speaker can find among people who understand him and accept him fully. 

Stanza Two 

To fling my arms wide
(…)
    Black like me.

The second stanza is very similar to the first. The speaker uses nearly identical phrases to those used in the first stanza. For example, the first line is a refrain and is entirely identical to the first line of the first stanza. The second line is slightly different, using “the face of the sun” rather than “some place of the sun.” 

Rather than describing in clear language how the speaker wants to free himself in the light, he uses the words “Dance!” and “Whirl!” to emphasize his movements. The variation in this stanza describes the speaker resting on a “pale evening.” This suggests that the second stanza is a better version of what the speaker envisioned in the first. He’s capable of resting at all times in this version of life. The dream of a world in which he is never concerned about his safety or how someone will react to his race is at the heart of this poem. 

FAQs 

What does ‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes mean?

The poem expresses the dream of a single speaker, which can be interpreted as Hughes’ understanding of all African Americans’ dreams for a future of freedom and acceptance in everyday society. All people are treated equally in this dream world, whether at night or during the day. 

What does the speaker most desire in ‘Dream Variations?’

The speaker is looking for a life free from oppression and fear. He wants to resist the moral darkness of the day through his art and feel free to be themselves, whether they are among African Americans or other racial groups.

How did Langston Hughes convey his feelings of racial pride in his poetry?

Hughes often celebrated the achievements of African American men and women throughout his verse. He condemned racial discrimination, described the goals and dreams of people in his community, and sought to inspire Black readers to promote their culture rather than hide it. 

Why was Langston Hughes criticized?

Hughes was criticized during his lifetime for several reasons. As a prominent Black man in American literature, his writing was often looked down on by his white contemporaries and white readers. Many suggested that his focus on the lives of African American men, women, and children was unattractive and uninteresting. But today, Hughes is rightly regarded as one of the best and most important poets in American history. 

What poem is Langston Hughes most famous for?

Hughes is best known for his poem Harlem,also known as ‘A Dream Deferred.’ This is just one of several poems discussing the “dream” of African American communities and the poet himself. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring other Langston Hughes poems. For example: 

  • Dream Boogie’ – is a poem about jazz, creativity, and the oppression of Black Americans. It was written during the Harlem Renaissance
  • Dreams’ – highlights the value of “dreams” by presenting two situations that revolve around the loss of those “dreams.”
  • I Dream a World’ – is a powerful, short poem that outlines the poet’s vision of a utopian world. There, no one is judged on the color of their skin, and all people have access to the same freedoms.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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