Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1065
In line 1, Hughes uses the word “fast,” not only because it means the same thing in this context as “close” or “tight” would, but also because the reader cannot help but think of hurrying, and this adds a sense of urgency to the poem at its very start. The question of how to hold a dream, which is not as obvious as it might first seem to the casual reader, is central to this piece. Throughout the poem, Hughes’s language treats dreams as if they were physical objects.
In line 3 the poem metaphorically identifies life with a bird. Hughes is very specific about why this bird could not fly. In using “broken-winged” instead of “crippled,” he implies that some violence has occurred to the bird, and therefore to the dreamless life. Birds are commonly associated with dreams and ideals in literature because their flight in the empty sky matches the idea of uninhibited freedom, like the mind’s freedom.
The first two lines are nearly repeated in lines 5–6, resembling the repetition in blues music, which this poem is based upon. Traditionally, blues lyrics describe hardship and suffering, which this poem does also. The poem, though, twice mentions holding fast to dreams, emphasizing that hardship and suffering are not inevitable. Line 6 changes the word “die” to “go”: not only does this start a new rhyme, but it also adds to the sense of how vulnerable dreams are, and how easy it is to lose them.
Since blues music is traditionally from the southern part of the United States, which is warm and was mostly farm land at the time Hughes was writing, the idea of the “barren field” is an expected metaphor. The description “frozen with snow,” however, is pointedly strange and hostile. There is a common association between barrenness, sterility (in the sense of sustaining no life), and being frozen. The picture Hughes gives of life in these lines is bleak, but even worse than doomed: he says that life can be hopeless if you allow it to be.
This line states explicitly that these images and actions constitute the speaker’s dream. The exclamation mark demonstrates the speaker’s certainty and elation about his dream.
These lines introduce the second stanza’s repetition and variation of the first stanza. Line 11 is a metaphor that personifies the sun, giving it a human “face.” Line 11 also rhymes “face” with the “place” in line 2, but changes the line’s meaning. Now that the first stanza has established the speaker’s association of the sun with whiteness, “in the face of the sun” takes on two meanings. Not only would the speaker like to fling his arms freely in daylight, but he wishes that gesture to signal joyous defiance to that face. What he defies is ambiguous; perhaps he defies all that the sun represents in this poem—whiteness, labor, exhaustion, or the passage of time that the sun’s cycles mark. Lines 12 and 13 also support this notion of defying time.
Again, this line repeats the words “whirl, dance, day” and “done” of lines 3 and 4, yet means something different. Whereas line 3 suggests how the speaker might dance to celebrate a sense of freedom, in line 12 the celebration seems frantic, ominous, and obligatory: “Dance!” is a command. The tone of the speaker’s dance may have changed be- cause the speaker has come to recognize that each passing day marks one less day to live.
Line 13 changes the “white day” of line 4 to “quick day.” The day’s “quick” passage may explain the speaker’s feeling of urgency, as if there is precious little time left in which to live. He may feel that daylight time is stolen from him by the sun as it withdraws each day. Since the effects of whiteness or white culture on this speaker are...
(The entire section contains 1065 words.)
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