Langston Hughes: “Montage of a Dream Deferred”

February 2013_1

Langston Hughes (born February 1st 1902, died 1967)

“Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951):  a selection of poems


“Children’s Rhymes”


When I was a chile we used to play,

“One – two – buckle my shoe!”

and things like that.  But now, Lord,

listen at them little varmints!


By what sends

the white kids

I ain’t sent:

I know I can’t

be President.


There is two thousand children

In this block, I do believe!


What don’t bug

them white kids

sure bugs me:

We knows everybody

ain’t free!


Some of these young ones is cert’ly bad –

One batted a hard ball right through my window

And my gold fish et the glass.


What’s written down

for white folks

ain’t for us a-tall:

“Liberty And Justice –

Huh – For All.”



Skee!  Daddle-de-do!



Salt’ peanuts!




.     .     .





I don’t have to work.

I don’t have to do nothing

but eat, drink, stay black, and die.

This little old furnished room’s

so small I can’t whip a cat

without getting fur in my mouth

and my landlady’s so old

her features is all run together

and God knows she sure can overcharge –

which is why I reckon I does

have to work after all.


.     .     .


“Question (2)”


Said the lady, Can you do

what my other man can’t do –

that is

love me, daddy –

and feed me, too?






.     .     .


“Easy Boogie”


Down in the bass

That steady beat

Walking walking walking

Like marching feet.


Down in the bass

That easy roll,

Rolling like I like it

In my soul.


Riffs, smears, breaks.


Hey, Lawdy, Mama!

Do you hear what I said?

Easy like I rock it

In my bed!


.     .     .


“What?  So Soon!”


I believe my old lady’s

pregnant again!

Fate must have

some kind of trickeration

to populate the

cllud nation!

Comment against Lamp Post

You call it fate?





.     .     .




Tomorrow may be

a thousand years off:


Says this particular

cigarette machine.


Others take a quarter straight.


Some dawns



.     .     .


“Café:  3 a.m.”


Detectives from the vice squad

with weary sadistic eyes

spotting fairies.


some folks say.


But God, Nature,

or somebody

made them that way.

Police lady or Lesbian

over there?


.     .     .


“125th Street”


Face like a chocolate bar

full of nuts and sweet.


Face like a jack-o’-lantern,

candle inside.


Face like a slice of melon,

grin that wide.


.     .     .




In the gutter

boys who try

might meet girls

on the fly

as out of the gutter

girls who will

may meet boys

copping a thrill

while from the gutter

both can rise:

But it requires

Plenty eyes.


February 2013_2



When a chile gets to be thirteen

and ain’t seen Christ yet,

she needs to set on de moaner’s bench

night and day.


Jesus, lover of my soul!


Hail, Mary, mother of God!


Let me to thy bosom fly!


Amen!  Hallelujah!


Swing low, sweet chariot,

Coming for to carry me home.


Sunday morning where the rhythm flows,

How old nobody knows –

yet old as mystery,

older than creed,

basic and wondering

and lost as my need.


Eli, eli!

Te deum!




Father Bishop, Effendi, Mother Horne,

Father Divine, a Rabbi black

as black was born,

a jack-leg preacher, a Ph.D.


The mystery

and the darkness

and the song

and me.


.     .     .


“Nightmare Boogie”


I had a dream

and I could see

a million faces

black as me!

A nightmare dream:

Quicker than light

All them faces

Turned dead white!


Rolling bass,

Whirling treble

Of cat-gut lace.


.     .     .


“Blues at Dawn”


I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.

If I thought thoughts in bed,

Them thoughts would bust my head –

So I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.


I don’t dare remember in the morning

Don’t dare remember in the morning.

If I recall the day before,

I wouldn’t get up no more –

So I don’t dare remember in the morning.


.     .     .




Down home

he sets on a stoop

and watches the sun go by.

In Harlem

when his work is done

he sets in a bar with a beer.

He looks taller than he is

and younger than he ain’t.

He looks darker than he is, too.

And he’s smarter than he looks,

He ain’t smart.

That cat’s a fool.

Naw, he ain’t neither.

He’s a good man,

except that he talks too much.

In fact, he’s a great cat.

But when he drinks,

he drinks fast.


he don’t drink.


he just

lets his glass

set there.


.     .     .


“Subway Rush Hour”



breath and smell

so close


black and white

so near

no room for fear.


.     .     .




We’re related – you and I,

You from the West Indies,

I from Kentucky.


Kinsmen – you and I,

You from Africa,

I from U.S.A.


Brothers – you and I.


.     .     .




Cheap little rhymes

A cheap little tune

Are sometimes as dangerous

As a sliver of the moon.

A cheap little tune

To cheap little rhymes

Can cut a man’s

Throat sometimes.


.     .     .


“Hope (2)”


He rose up on his dying bed

and asked for fish.

His wife looked it up in her dream book

and played it.


.     .     .


“Harlem (2)”


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?


.     .     .




Dear Mama,

Time I pay rent and get my food

and laundry I don’t have much left

but here is five dollars for you

to show you I still appreciates you.

My girl-friend send her love and say

she hopes to lay eyes on you sometime in life.

Mama, it has been raining cats and dogs up

here.  Well, that is all so I will close.

You son baby

Respectably as ever,



.     .     .




I play it cool

And dig all jive.

That’s the reason

I stay alive.


My motto,

As I live and learn,


Dig And Be Dug

In Return.



.     .     .     .     .

From Hughes’ introduction to his 1951 collection “Montage of a Dream Deferred”:

“In terms of current Afro-American popular music and the sources from which it has progressed – jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie, and be-bop – this poem on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the manner of the jam session, sometimes the popular song, punctuated by the riffs, runs, breaks, and distortions of the music of a community in transition.”


February 2013_3


Editor’s note:

Langston Hughes’ poems “Theme for English B” and “Advice” – both of which were included in his publication of “Montage of a Dream Deferred” – are featured in separate Hughes’ posts on Zócalo Poets.

.     .     .     .     .

“Montage of a Dream Deferred”- from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad, with David Roessel, 1994

All poems © The Estate of Langston Hughes