‘I Dream a World‘ is one of Hughes’ best. It explores themes that will be familiar to readers of his work while also taking an enjoyable optimistic tone. Rather than mourning the state of the world in ‘I Dream a World,’ the poet looks forward to a future where the world will be very different.
Explore I Dream a World
‘I Dream a World’ by Langston Hughes is a moving poem about the future and what joys and freedom humanity can achieve.
In the first lines of ‘I Dream a World,’ the poet states that he’s had a dream and that in it, all people are free. Love covers the earth and no one feels neglected or oppressed. Sweet freedom is known by every person all well. It is this freedom that allows peace and joy to bloom and spread. He specifically mentions race as an important factor when crafting this utopian world. He believes that a future exists in which race doesn’t matter and that no one judges another person based on the color of their skin. Finally, he adds, wretchedness will hang its head and leave and joy will attend to the needs of all people.
The meaning of ‘I Dream a World’ is that the perfect world is one in which all people enjoy the same freedoms and joys, and racism and avarice are defeated. By putting his dream forward, Hughes is suggesting that this world is achievable if that’s what people work to find.
Throughout this poem, Hughes engages with themes of freedom and joy. The poet looks into the future and envisions a utopian version of his world. There, men and women do not battle against greed, avarice, or racism. All people are free. It is this freedom that should be the focus and goal of anyone trying to better the world. With it comes joy, something that’s going to be hard to achieve but is worth seeking.
Structure and Form
‘I Dream a World’ by Langston Hughes is a sixteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem follows a specific rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds as the lines progress. There is an example of a perfect rhyme with “earth” at the ends of lines three and eleven.
Regarding the meter, the vast majority of the poem is written in iambic trimeter. This means that the lines contain three sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. For example, “And every man is free.” In this line, “And,” “-ry,” “is” are all unstressed and “ev-,” “man,” and “free” are stressed. This puts the emphasis exactly where it should be. Readers should also note the use of iambic tetrameter. It ours, for example, in line nine. This line, along with others, contains four sets of two beats, making it two syllables longer than the other lines.
Throughout this poem, Hughes makes use of several examples of figurative language. These include but are not limited to:
- Simile: famously depicted through Hughes’ comparison of a pearl and joy. It is a surprising but apt comparison. Joy is not going to be easy to achieve, especially on the level he’s dreaming of. It’s like a pearl in that way. They are also hard-won.
- Personification: seen through the poet’s depiction of the pearl attending the needs of all of “mankind.” It’s with joy that all people are going to find peace and happiness. It is also seen when the poet describes wretchedness as hanging its head. It is finally defeated and sent away in shame.
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
In the first lines of ‘I Dream a World,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. The speaker is considering the future and how, he says, there is a way it could be better. He’s dreaming and hoping that one day in the future “man / No other man will scorn” and peace will “bless the earth.” This idealized image of the future is one in which racism, fear, and greed no longer exist nor control humankind.
Freedom will be something that every person on earth enjoys. He uses the word “sweet” to describe freedom. This is a great example of imagery, allowing readers to feel freedom differently. Readers might also take note of the use of enjambment in these lines. This helps the poem maintain a conversational quality. It’s as though the speaker is simply relaying his dream, although with well-thought-out words.
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
And every man is free,
Starting in the seventh line of ‘I Dream A World,’ the speaker mentions a few of the things that he hopes will eventually disappear from the world. These include greed and avarice. These are two of the seven deadly sins, ones that the speaker feels are keeping humankind from achieving the kind of peace he’s thinking about.
In the next lines, he specifically mentions race as an important feature of this future world. No one is going to care who is black or white. Every person is going to be free. This is a common theme in Hughes’ poetry, such as in ‘A Dream Deferred.’ Readers should note the way that poet repeated the word “free” in the poem. It’s something that is incredibly important to him and is integral to the meaning of the poem.
Where wretchedness will hang its head
Of such I dream, my world!
In the final lines, the poet uses figurative language in order to describe what joy is going to be like when it’s spread all over the world. He compares it to a “pearl.” It is something that’s buried deep and hard-won when finally achieved. The simile also connects to Hughes’ understanding that achieving joy is not going to be an easy thing. The poet also personifies the pearl, describing how it, like joy, is going to “Attend…the needs of all mankind.”
Hughes wrote ‘I Dream a World’ in order to share his utopian vision of the future. His poetry is often concerned with the dreams of marginalized groups, like Black Americans, and this poem explores what the world would be like if racism and restrictions were no longer considerations.
Throughout this poem, Hughes uses an optimistic tone. He dreams about the future, one in which racism, avarice, and greed are extinguished and in which all people are free.
Hughes wrote ‘I Dream a World’ when he was living in Harlem in 1941. He was thirty-nine at the time.
It’s likely that Hughes imagined himself as the speaker of ‘I Dream a World.’ The use of the first-person pronoun “I” is not always connected to the poet, but in this case, considering his interest in these themes in other poems, it’s more likely he is the speaker.
Hughes references a dream of the future in which all people are treated equally. It’s a dream he’s actively exploring rather than one he experienced while sleeping.
Readers who enjoyed ‘I Dream A World’ should also consider reading other Langston Hughes poems. For example:
- ‘Harlem (A Dream Deferred)’ – written in response to what he felt as a black man navigating a career and personal life in a white-dominated world.
- ‘Beale Street Love’ – a short, powerful poem that speaks on the nature of love on Beale Street, an African American cultural hub.
- ‘I, Too, Sing America’ – is an incredibly personal poem Hughes wrote, expressing how he felt like a forgotten American. His skin color changed, in some people’s perspectives, how American he was.