How many feet are in "Dreams" by Langston Hughes?

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A foot , or metric foot, in poetry is the number of units per line. The specific definition of a poetic foot is pretty complex and can depend on the type of poem and the language, but in English, it usually refers to the number of stressed syllables there are...

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A foot, or metric foot, in poetry is the number of units per line. The specific definition of a poetic foot is pretty complex and can depend on the type of poem and the language, but in English, it usually refers to the number of stressed syllables there are in a line—in simple terms, the number of beats. Therefore, we're not counting the number of actual syllables in a line of poetry when we're trying to determine the number of feet, just the number of stressed syllables, or places where you would put emphasis when reading the line aloud.

Look at the first line of the poem: "Hold fast to dreams." If you say it out loud, you'll emphasize two of those four words, each of which is one syllable. Probably, you'd emphasize fast and dreams. But you could have a two-syllable word in the place of "dreams," and it would still be a two-foot line, because if it was, say, "hold fast to anger," there would be one additional syllable, but still only two feet, or stressed syllables (fast and anger).

Most of the lines in this poem follow this pattern of two stressed syllables, or two feet. The exception is: "Life is a broken winged bird." We'd read this aloud as something like: "life is a broken winged bird"—so it has double the number of feet the shorter lines have: four feet as opposed to two.

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To answer your question, take the poem and put a small mark between each syllable in each line of the poem and add up the number of syllables (I'm simply using the / out of convenience here):

Hold / fast / to / dreams = 4
For / if / dreams / die = 4
Life / is / a / bro / ken- / winged / bird = 7?
That / can / not / fly. = 4
Hold fast to dreams = 4
For when dreams go = 4
Life is a barren field = again, 7?
Frozen with snow. = 4

The answer, then, will depend on what lines in the poem you are talking about. Hughes' poetry tends to follow the natural pattern of spoken English, which is called "iambic" and is characterized by alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. The first two lines, both in iambic, have two stressed syllabus each. In these opening lines, each unstressed syllable pairs with the stressed syllable after it to form an iamb (or iambic foot, if you prefer). The fancy term for a line with two iambic feet is "iambic dimeter."

Or, to answer your question in just a few words:

Two feet per line, except in those two longer lines.

 

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