Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Hughes wrote about dreams throughout his career, in virtually every book of poems he published. It could be argued that dreams represent the dominant theme in his poetry. “Dream Variations” is one of his earliest poems to articulate a dream, and in its enigmatic duality it is accurately representative—expressive—of its author.

The dream is dual because it embraces, or seeks to embrace, day and night, light and dark, white and black, and the other polarities associated with these: motion and rest, flux and stasis, performances both public and private. The middle line of the poem—“That is my dream!”—points to everything that comes before it, and, since the last eight lines recapitulate the first eight, it points as well to everything that follows. The duality is enigmatic, because the poem’s images are ambiguous. What, if anything, apart from themselves, do the whirling and dancing stand for? How can the dream embrace both day and night and all that is associated with each? How does the poem, or how can the reader, reconcile the polarities?

Careful use of biographical materials can sometimes provide insights into a poet’s work, and Rampersad’s excellent two-volume The Life of Langston Hughes (1986) convincingly argues that Hughes was “a divided man” in his attitudes toward and feelings about race. This insight may provide one way (among many potential ways) of approaching “Dream Variations.”


(The entire section is 601 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

The Spiritual Reunion with Africa
Although nowhere in “Dream Variations” does the speaker say where his dream takes place,...

(The entire section is 1245 words.)