Please give a summary of "The Slave's Dream" by Henry Longfellow?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, a slave dreams of Africa.  The substance of his dream is how important and free he was back in his native country.  It is not clear in the poem whether he truly was important before being enslaved or whether these are simply the dreams and aspirations he might have had.

At the end of the poem we find out that he is not actually dreaming but has, rather, died and can no longer feel the whip of the slave driver.

This poem was one of eight poems included in a book entitled "Poems on Slavery" that Longfellow published in 1842.

Although Longfellow is much better known for happier and more inspirational poetry, he was a dedicated abolitionist who put a great deal of time and money into the cause.

astwanab | Student


The Slave’s Dream is an incredible, deep poem about the dream of a slave. The writing components used to create a tone of injustice was presented in a creative way. They produced a deeper meaning to the simple sentences said throughout the poem. It makes the reader grasp for a deeper understanding.
The author is understood through his writing style by using diction, imagery, and personification to get across his tone to the reader. “Wide through the landscape of his dreams the lordly Niger flowed.” (Lines 7-8) This line is an example of the diction that he uses. The way the sentence is worded brings many questions to mind. Why is the Niger lordly? Why is the “N” in Niger capitalized? Just to ask a few. When the poet was writing he used lordly to contrast what the reader already knows about slavery. Common knowledge of slavery is that all slaves were treated badly and inhumane. Lordly, though usually intended to mean something worthy, is used in context to get across to the reader the way the slave viewed himself in his dream. He considered himself to be worthy and noble. He is admirable of himself in his dream and so he walks around his imaginative Africa as though he is of royalty; his way of escaping from reality and all of its pain. “He saw once more his dark-eyed queen among her children stand; they clasped his neck, they kissed his cheeks, they held him by the hand!” (Lines 13-16) The writer uses imagery in this statement. The way he describes the children’s affection for the father after they see him, is just so vibrant. You can tell by the affection that they show, it as though they do not see their father often and spend quality time with him. This statement also helps acknowledge the facts of slavery and how most blacks were separated from their families. The man dreams of this affection because it is something that he desires but does not posses. He is showing what basic affection he is lacking due to his rank on the social ladder. “The forests, with their myriad tongues, shouted of liberty.” (Lines 37-38) The writer uses personification to bring the forest to life. He wants the reader to see that they did rally for freedom, in a variety of ways, but they were still denied this luxury. These writing style components gave the poem more of a creative and inquisitive outlook. The way the writer wrote about every aspect of the dream, he gave deeper meaning to wanting something that you can’t have. The author’s tone is injustice throughout the poem. Injustice is shown when the dream is everything that the black man desires but lacks due to his powerless state. His rights were taken away from him due to the inequality and unfairness going on during that time period. The tone shows the authors’ annoyed attitude toward slavery. The author is annoyed with the unjust treatment of slavery. He feels the rights of slaves were unreasonably taken away.

shreyanshdugar2087 | Student

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's heartfelt poem "The Slave's Dream" is structured as eight sestet stanzas in alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter with a rhyme scheme of a b c b d b  etc., varying the Italian sestet rhyme scheme of a b c a b c, in which the trimeter lines correspond with the b-position rhymes. The poetic speaker, who is not the poet himself, is narrating the slave's dream and experience in this dream vision poem.

The poem starts out by positioning the slave laying down beside his work, his tool in his hand, with the "mist and shadow of sleep" about him as he dreams of his "Native Land" where he is a beloved king, with loving wife and children, who rides on a fast horse decked in gold. The dream vision follows the king on a fast ride past landmarks of his beloved land where he smiles at lions, hyenas and the desert blast. The ending reveals that the slave is beyond the pain of the slave "driver's whip," beyond the "burning heat of day," for "Death" has "illuminated" his sleep and set his soul free.

Some of the poetic techniques (one of the two categories of poetic devices) Longfellow uses are metaphor, simile, personification, and irony. An example of metaphor is "mist and shadow of sleep." An example of simile is "like a glorious roll of drums." An example of personification is "Blast of the Desert cried aloud." An example of irony is "Death had illuminated the Land of Sleep." This is creatively ironic because death is associated in poetic convention with darkness and chains of despair, yet Longfellow sees that for the slave death is an illumination of light and a freedom of release; these are the opposite of the poetic convention.

sarangid | Student
This is what my teacher gave me - Theme - freedom ; irresistible Desire to be free Is about a kind of africa who was taken as a slave He was tired , exhausted , worked under inhuman conditions He dreams about the days gone by ( in Africa) Is forced to be a slave His dreams have unaccomplished freedom which get fulfilled after death About life before slavery - was a king, free, had a safe secure family, brought prosperity to his land ( golden chains) If this was useful could u plz let me know I can write about other poems in ICSE portion :) :)
shubhambajaj | Student

In this poem, a slave dreams of Africa. The substance of his dream is how important and free he was back in his native country. It is not clear in the poem whether he truly was important before being enslaved or whether these are simply the dreams and aspirations he might have had.

bhavyasri95rct | Student

the poeat uses diction to convey his meaning.he aso uses metaphors,concrete imagery and personification


atawsik | Student

The poem is set against the background of the system of slavery prevalent in America in the 19th century.