Langston Hughes’s iconic poem “Harlem” has been on my mind these days as so many dreams are being put on hold. Both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and this year’s Boston Marathon have been officially postponed along with countless weddings, vacations, and milestones we’ve all been planning and dreaming about for months. It’s natural to feel disappointment with these losses, but professional runner Emily Sisson reminds us that many of our “dreams are not cancelled, we just have to wait a little longer to chase them.”   

Harlem by Langston Hughes

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?

Click here to hear Langston Hughes read “Harlem. “

What’s been happening to your deferred dreams?  What dreams – old or new – will you chase when COVID-19 is behind us?  (If you’d like to, you can share in the comments section below.)


“Harlem” by Langston Hughes, from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. 2002  Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes

Photo: Langston Hughes at home. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


  1. I am a big Langston Hughes fan, Patti. It makes sense you have been thinking about this poem; I see what you mean about deferred dreams abounding. Though I am wary of the commercialization, well, of anything, including poetry, I do like how Nike used the poem here in this ad from a few years back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrfLQpN2gZs . I was slated to participate as a parent volunteer for the mountain biking team my thirteen year-old son recently signed up for and that has been canceled. I helped him make a small dirt jump in the backyard instead…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is my kind of video – running and poetry! I think I’ve watched it 3 times already and will probably use it in Partners in Rhyme. Thank you, Shel! And how sweet to build your son a dirt jump…


  2. I remember this from our iintergenerational poetry class. My student and I chose this to recite. It was interesting to hear Langston Hughes present it. He’s not as dramatic a reader as many poets.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this. I have experienced the “explosion” scenario — and found that all the little bits and pieces somehow reassembled into something new and unexpected. Not better, but different and also good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like to think that this moment of “pause” makes the dreams even more articulated in our minds as we have time to reflect on them. What is my dream? Why? Really? A good moment to write the dream down, sketch it perhaps, and once free to pursue – go full force!

    Liked by 1 person

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