Explain the poem "As I Grew Older" by Langston Hughes.  Include its form and structure.  

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Langston Hughes wrote about dreams, inequality, and oppression in his imagery poems.  He was considered to be the best of the Harlem Renaissance poets.  His beautiful poetry speaks not only to the black nation but to all people who have dreams and who fight to achieve them.

“As I Grew Older” is one of Hughes' lesser known poems. It has many of the same ideas that he expressed in his Harlem Dreams poems.  Hughes’ theme spans several poems: never give up; fight to have equality in an unjust society; and always keep hope in a person’s heart.

The poem is written as one long stanza. It might be broken apart through the development of the person who speaks in the poem: the youth and the adult. As in many of Hughes’ literature, the poem follows a jazzy rhythm based on repetitive musical phrases, and repetitive words.  The poem is written in free verse with irregular line lengths and no specific rhyme scheme.  The diction is simplistic and conversational.

In the beginning of the poem, the movement is slow and precise.  Following a crescendo effect, the poem builds to a high point at the end when the poet uses five exclamation points to emphasize the climax of his poem.The poem speaks to the subjugation of dreams from any source. 


The narrator of the poem begins by letting the reader know that he is looking back on his childhood dreams about which he had almost forgotten. As a child, his dreams were “bright like a sun.”

Then the poem takes a dark turn: a wall arose to deter the dreams from completion. The wall rose slowly and almost imperceptibly climbed so high that it went all the way to the sky.  The poet uses the metaphor of the wall to represent racism and prejudice that shatter dreams for the child.   

As he moved through his life, the narrator felt unable to go out into the sun that once held his dreams.  He moves now in the shadows of life.  He can no longer see the bright dreams that he had as a naïve child. The wall of oppression has become taller and thicker.  It surrounds him.

The speaker looks at his hands and with great emotion he builds his case: his dark hands must break through the metaphoric wall.  He must find his dream again. Asking for the help of the reader, the narrator wants to shatter the wall of darkness.  The child must be let out of the shadowy night and be able to walk and dream in the bright sunlight without the wall of racism, bias, and fanaticism.  He will live in a world of many dreams and much sunlight!

Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

Being born with a certain color of skin or ethnic background should not prevent a person from achieving his dreams even in a white-dominated society.  Therefore, the poem begins with a little hope, sinks behind the wall, and rises again with a strong move toward hope and strength. 

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