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Poet Langston Hughes on Broken Dreams

In the 1920s a young African American writer moved into New York City to join what became known as the Harlem Renaissance, an explosion of creativity among black artists. Through his poetry, Hughes often tried to capture the common struggles and heartaches of people in his neighborhood—like this poem simply titled "Dreams":

Hold fast to dreams,
for if dreams die,
life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams,
for when dreams go,
life is a barren field,
frozen with snow.

Some critics blasted Hughes for his negative portrayal of ordinary people, but Hughes was adamant that he wanted to write about the brokenness of ordinary people living ordinary lives. He once said that his poetry is about "workers and singers and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled … buying furniture on the installment plan … hoping to get a new suit for Easter and then pawning that suit before the Fourth of July." Hughes understood that life is filled with hope and beauty but sometimes it can also feel like a broken-winged bird or a barren field, frozen with snow.

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