“Dreams” by Langston Hughes

Happy New Year! This is the one year anniversary of my Blog – my musings on an almost monthly basis, about books, articles, poems that have influenced me in some way. I hope that you have enjoyed them.

This Blog post focuses on the poem you have hopefully just read in my New Years e-card and animation: “Dreams” by Langston Hughes. If you didn’t read it, you might want to do so now……

First of all, Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. The jazz accompaniment in the e-card pays homage to Hughes as one of the founders of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.

If you don’t know his work, you might want to check it out. Here is a link to one of my all time favorite poems, also about dreams: “Harlem” (What happens to a dream deferred?).

What I love about Hughes is that his poems are very much about the time in which he lived (1902-1967). They are contextual, concrete, often about the dignity, humor and sadness of everyday life for African Americans. And his work (also short stories and plays) uses jazz rhythms.

At the same time, the themes are complex and transcend the context of his time. Dreams transcend context and time. Dreams by their very nature cannot be “held fast.” They are not real, they are not tactile, not concrete. So what is this poem saying? To me it seems to be about a few different things:

  • Hope – hold fast to hope. Life becomes barren without the hope that things will change for the better, our efforts will bear fruit, and our collective goodness and compassion will prevail.
  • Being “dreamy” – meaning “floating” a little and not always fixed on the concrete tasks of everyday reality. There may be relief in floating in our imaginations. “Floating” helps to rejuvenate the everyday.
  • Positive thinking – choosing to see situations in a positive way. You know – the glass half full. Makes a big difference, as it turns out. There is quite a bit of research about the effects on the body of positive thinking. See Barbara Frederickson’s work.
  • Life is fragile and we humans are as fragile as we are strong and resilient – the poet’s image of the broken-winged bird is heartbreakingly vulnerable.

Some of Hughes’s work is bleak and he writes hard commentary about society during his day. Without dreams and without positive thinking and without hope, life is indeed bleak, especially for people who are disenfranchised in some way, oppressed, poor.

So how does this poem relate to us, today? Today, there is some sense of the rules as we know it, gone mad… Not only organizations, but countries are declaring bankruptcy; politics seems to have taken over the dialogue.

There is a tendency to wring one’s hands, be discouraged, give up, be apathetic. We can’t do that. We simply cannot give in to the chaos. We have to continue to hope, continue to believe that things can be better and work towards that vision. And continue to dream.

We can use the occasion of the New Year to reflect and ask ourselves if our individual and collective dreams and hopes are still true to our values and beliefs. As the darkest days of December turn again to the lighter days of January, we can rededicate ourselves to our dreams and hopes, recommit to being true to ourselves, knowing and doing what is good and right, despite the obstacles we perceive.

I realize that in some way, my thoughts this year echo last year’s thoughts when I wrote about Rumi’s poem, “Don’t go back to sleep.” This meant, “stay conscious.” This year I would say, stay conscious, recommit passionately to your dreams and hopes, keep the energy moving and keep the possibilities alive!

I wish 2012 to be a year for all of us when our individual and collective dreams provide guidance, hope and sustenance as well as ignite compassion for ourselves and others.

Martha Lask’s Blog

Occasional musings about books, articles or tools that might be of interest; I welcome your comments.

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