Harlem – A Poem by Langston Hughes

Dream Deferred - A Poem by Langston Hughes

Harlem, also often known also as Dream Deferred, is a famous poem by Langston Huges, an American writer and social-rights activist. The poem is part of the poem suite Montage of a Dream Deferred, whereby Huges elaborates a jazz-style poetry, also applying cinematic effects in its elaboration.

This is the 13th contribution to my Poetry & Management collectionPoetry has always been one of my favourite forms of expressions, probably one of the eclectic sides of my multipotentialite trait. I feel it can be really useful as support in our management and leadership quests, as it is probably one of the greatest tools of sense-making and self-expression. Which is why I will be sharing more of these over time.


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?

Langston Hughes

Source: Montage of a Dream Deferred. (New York, 1951)

A Short Comment

Harlem’s central question, what happens to a dream deferred, has been described as “one of American poetry’s most famous questions” and is deemed as one of the most influential American poems of the 20th century. In it you find the stories of people who, by accident of birth or fate, find themselves thrust onto a precarious margin. An important reference for a poet that was also a great voice in the Afro-american civil-rights movement.

I have chosen this poem also because it carries an important meaning for us all. From a leadership perspective, it shows how important it is to enable a vision not just for yourself but also for others. Too many people, at the edge of society but also within organisations, sit with their dreams deferred simply because nobody asked or listened to them.

In many ways, the poem also traces the challenges that you will find along the way in pursuing a purpose. And ultimately poses a question: a real dream can be really hindered and secluded? Or does it explode?

The reference to the energy provided by a vision or a dream, against all odds and adversities, is for me another key element of this great poem, which in few lines is able to express such power.

What do you think of this poem? Write a Comment below.

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Cover Image: Langston Hughes via Biography

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