What is the word choice in the poem "Harlem"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Word choice is also known as diction in poetry. In this poem, Hughes' diction is both simple and poetic. It is simple because he uses mostly everyday words that ordinary people would know, such as "dry," "raisin," "sun," and "meat." It is written in poetic diction, however, it uses figurative language. Figurative language goes beyond the literal to enhance the meaning or the feeling of the words chosen.

For example, Hughes uses a series of similes—comparisons using the words like or as—to compare a dream deferred (put off) to a raisin drying up in the sun, to a festering (pus-filled, infected) sore, to rotten meat, to a crusted sweet, and to a load that sags. The similes are all images: descriptions that use the fives senses of sight, sound, taste, smell, or touch. We can visualize a drying raisin or an infected sore, feel the weight of a sagging load, and smell the stink of rotting meat. These are all unpleasant images that build up in our mind the sourness and pain of not being able to fulfill one's dreams.

The poem also uses poetic diction in its rhyme scheme: "sun" and "run," and "meat" and "sweet" rhyme, asking a series of questions that provoke a reader to think. Although the words are simple, they leave a strong impression.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word choice -- or diction -- in Langston Hughes' poem "Harlem" seems to me to be very straightforward. The poem uses very few words -- maybe even just one, "syrupy" -- that are over two syllables in length. Most of the words, too, seem very concrete; the most abstract word in the poem is probably "deferred."

This straightforward, concrete word choice may have the effect of the making the poem seem very easy to read and to understand. In actuality, the metaphors that fill the poem use concrete words yet suggest meainings that are somewhat difficult to pin down.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial