"Dreams" is an accessible poem known for its plainspoken diction and simple style; it is noted for having been one of the thematic inspirations behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It is a very short poem comprised of only two stanzas and eight lines. It makes effective use of repetition, with each stanza beginning with the line "Hold fast to dreams" and continuing in the rest of the lines with an accessible metaphor illustrating the devastating repercussions of letting go of dreams—or, in other words, living without hope.
The metaphor in the first stanza compares a life without dreams to a "broken-winged bird," suggesting that without dreams motivating a person, his or her life will become stagnant in one place, like a bird that cannot fly. The next stanza is grounded by a metaphor comparing a life without dreams to a "barren field" in winter, which provides a visual of a life devoid of inspiration, joy, and personal growth. While the first metaphor deals with flight and the second with growth, each creates a visual of a person who feels "stuck" in an undesirable place. With his use of the imperative voice (instructing the reader to "hold fast to dreams"), the speaker in the poem appears to be communicating directly to the reader with some kindly and simple advice, which creates a warm and intimate mood.
Hughes often turned to dreams as a theme for his poetry. "Harlem"—well-known for its first line, "What happens to a dream deferred?"—is an equally famous poem about the role of dreams in people's lives. However, while "Dreams" fortifies the reader with faith in the value of dreams, in "Harlem," Hughes turns his focus on what happens to a person's soul if, despite holding on to a dream for so long, it is never realized. It is therefore interesting to look at the two poems in conjunction with one another. One's understanding of both poems is further enriched by considering the historical and personal context of Hughes's position as a Harlem Renaissance poet.