The Slave's Dream Summary

Extended Summary

The poem "The Slave’s Dream" opens with a vivid and startling image of a man lying near a field of “ungathered rice.” In his hand, he holds a sickle, apparently for use in harvesting the crop. However, he has been lying long enough for his “matted hair” to form an imprint in the sand. The man, a slave, sleeps and dreams of his native homeland.

In the slave’s dreams, he is back in his homeland, riding along the majestic Niger River. In his dream, he has been transformed into a “kingly” presence. He surveys the palm trees on the plain and hears the caravans of travelers descend from the mountains. In this vast expanse of land, there is freedom of movement and the dreamer avails himself of the opportunities.

The dreamer, now a respected family head, sees his lovely wife and their adoring children. His family grasps his hand and they affectionately kiss his face. Though he is sleeping, the dreamer cries and his tear falls into the sand. The image of a tenderly devoted family apparently presents a stark contrast his current realities.

In the dream, the dreamer then begins an uninhibited ride across his homeland. With chains of gold as reigns for his horse, he propels his horse onward, following the flight of beautiful flamingos. His ride carries him across the plains to the beautiful ocean side. These wonderfully colorful and vibrant visual images are accentuated by the free and native sounds of the wild. Animals, including the lion, the hyena and the river horse, march triumphantly through his dream, breaking the infinite silence.

The desert and the forest are personified, each conveying an exultant cry of freedom. The forest of his dream can boast of a “myriad tongues.” On the other hand, the desert “blasts” a claim to uninhibited freedom. Both prospects move the dreaming man so forcefully that he is startled by the mere possibility. They each gleefully, perhaps recklessly, suggest the potential for life without chains, without limitations. This freedom, this wild abandon, is what the slave most desires.

In the final stanza, the wearied dreamer has been discovered and is lashed repeatedly with “the driver’s whip.” Although he is lying in direct sunlight, he neither feels the scorching sun nor the stinging lashes. His body is “lifeless.” He has dreamt his final dream and his soul has been freed from the bonds of slavery. The system that perpetuates his enslavement offers no paths to freedom. Rather than live a life of enslavement, the dreamer dies because death is the only means of attaining freedom of any kind.

Ed. Scott Locklear