What Is the Poem “Dreams” by Langston Hughes About?

The poem “Dreams” by Langston Hughes is about the importance of dreams and their ability to empower, strengthen and sustain an individual’s life. In the poem, Hughes implores the reader to “hold fast to dreams” because life without dreams is like a “broken winged bird that cannot fly.”

This metaphor, along with the comparison of a dreamless life to a “barren field frozen with snow,” is what gives the poem such a powerful quality as its short and simple phrases speak to the emotions of the reader. Ultimately, the poem suggests that a life without dreams would be meaningless and hopeless.

Langston Hughes rose out of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement of the 1920s, which was characterized by an increase in African-American authorship. At first, Hughes was heavily criticized for the way that he depicted African-American life in the United States. Hughes chose to present African-American life in Harlem as he saw it, which may, at times, have been viewed as unattractive. Hughes noted that many of his early African-American critics “wanted to put their best foot forward, their politely polished and cultural foot—and only that foot” in terms of literature. Hughes sympathized with this view but stated in one response to such criticisms that he “knew very few people anywhere who were wholly beautiful and wholly good” and that he “knew only the people [he] had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to [him] good people, too.”