Langston Hughes

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What types of figurative language are in the poem "Dreams" by Langston Hughes? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The most famous writer of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes became the "poet laureate of Harlem." He once commented on his poetry as verse that deals with

people up today and down tomorrow...beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten.

In "Dreams," Hughes addresses the down-but-determined with his exhortations. He wishes to prevent the deferment of goals, as in his first line he urges people to "hold fast to dreams."

In this short poem, Hughes employs literary devices and figurative language:

--Alliteration 

The /d/ is repeated in the first two lines with the words "dreams" and "die." Then, in the last two lines, the /f/ is repeated with the last word of the seventh line, "field," and the first word of the final line, "Frozen."

--Metaphors

There are metaphors, or unstated comparisons, with "life," which is compared to "a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly" and "a barren field / Frozen with snow." In other words, if a person no longer dreams, his/her life becomes damaged and barren, lacking any meaning.

--Personification

In order to impress upon his readers the importance of dreams and goals, Langston Hughes personifies them. For example, in the second line of the poem, Hughes writes, "For if dreams die...." Dreams are given importance and life through personification.

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Coty Baumbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Langston Hughes' short poem "Dreams" has two types of figurative language, personification and metaphor. The poem encourages the reader to never give up on hopes and goals. Hughes was probably aiming his poem at blacks who were still experiencing overwhelming racism and segregation at the time the poem was written. The poem, however, appeals to anyone who has dreamed of something better. 

First off, Hughes uses personification in the lines: "For if dreams die" and "For when dreams go". Personification is when something non-human is given human qualities. Dreams don't literally die and they can't travel.

Secondly, Hughes employs two metaphors to describe what happens when dreams are lost. A metaphor is a comparison of two unrelated things to suggest they are somehow similar. In the poem, losing a dream is compared to a "broken winged bird That cannot fly" and a "barren field Frozen with snow".  These metaphors bring up powerful imagery which strengthens the overall impact of the poem. 

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