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“As I Grew Old” is a poem written by Langston Hughes. The poem is about the dream the speaker has. But as he grows old he is unable to achieve that dream. The dream never comes to fruition. The speaker in the poem represents the African Americans living in the county. They came to America with dreams and ambitions but they were unable to achieve those dreams because of racism. The poem talks about a huge wall that stands between the people and their goals. The poet says that everyone can achieve their dreams if they badly want it. All they have to do is overcome that wall of fear.
About the poet
Langston Hughes was born in 1902, in Missouri, USA. He was a prominent American poet, social activist, and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance—a cultural and artistic movement that flourished in the 1920s in America. Hughes played a crucial role in depicting the African American experience through his poetry. Some of his notable achievements is the publication of his first poetry collection, “The Weary Blues,” in 1926 and the famous poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”.
The poem is written in one long stanza. The stanza is made up of 29 lines, all varying in length.
Lines 1- 6
It was a long time ago. I have almost forgotten my dream. But it was there then, In front of me, Bright like a sun— My dream.
The speaker talks about how a while back, he had this dream, but it’s kind of fuzzy now. But back then, it was right there in front of him, shining like a sun. Even though the details are slipping away, the feeling of that dream sticks around, taking him back to a time when the future seemed wide open. Now, looking back, he thinks about the journey and what might have been, with the memory of that bright dream still lingering in his thoughts.
The poet talks about the passage of time and the enduring impact of a forgotten dream. He repeats the line “It was a long time ago” to emphasize the temporal element. There is a temporal distance between the dream, which was in the past, and the present moment now. The metaphor “Bright like a sun” not only paints the dream as vivid but also symbolizes hope and aspiration, enhancing its significance. The dream is used as a symbol, to represent personal goals or ambitions.
Lines 7- 12
And then the wall rose, Rose slowly, Slowly, Between me and my dream. Rose until it touched the sky— The wall.
The speaker talks about a wall coming up slowly, acting like a big obstacle between him and his dream. The wall rises and as it rises it grows higher, reaching the sky. The wall becomes an obstacle between the speaker and his dreams. He can not overcome this obstacle. The slow pace of its rise makes it feel like a significant challenge, making it harder for the speaker to reach or achieve what he once dreamed about.
The poet uses repetition to emphasize the slow rise of a symbolic wall. The repetition of “Rose slowly, Slowly,” emphasizes the gradual and deliberate ascent of the wall, it represents the challenges between him and his dream. The wall’s height, reaching the sky, symbolizes a formidable obstacle. The sky, often associated with vast possibilities, becomes a contrasting backdrop to the restrictive nature of the wall. The poet’s deliberate choice of words, such as “rose” and “touched the sky,” adds visual and tactile elements to the description.
Shadow. I am black. I lie down in the shadow. No longer the light of my dream before me, Above me. Only the thick wall. Only the shadow.
In the shadow, the speaker, who is black, finds himself lying down. The bright light of his dream is gone, no longer shining ahead or above. He can not see the bright light of his own ambitions. Instead, there’s only a thick wall and the darkness of the shadow. The speaker feels like he’s surrounded by obstacles, with the dream’s brightness replaced by the heaviness of the wall and the dark shadow looming over him.
The poet uses color and light symbolism to portray a shift from a bright dream to a darker reality. The choice of “black” conveys a sense of obscurity. “Black” also symbolizes his ethnicity. The poet says that the wall looming over him is the wall of racism and discrimination. Lying down in the shadow represents surrendering to challenges. The repetition of “Only” emphasizes the stark presence of a thick wall and shadow, illustrating a transformation from hope to constraint.
Lines 20- 29
My hands! My dark hands! Break through the wall! Find my dream! Help me to shatter this darkness, To smash this night, To break this shadow Into a thousand lights of sun, Into a thousand whirling dreams Of sun!
The speaker, fueled by determination, urges his dark hands to break through the wall and find his dream. He uses his hands to break down the wall. He seeks collective effort and asks his fellow brothers to help him shatter the shadows created by the wall. He envisions shattering the darkness, turning the oppressive shadow into countless sun-like lights and whirling dreams. He wants to turn the darkness into the bright light of the sun. It’s a passionate plea for liberation and a brighter future.
The poet uses vivid language and repetition, highlighting his dark hands as a symbol of strength. He turns the “black”-ness of his hands into strength and opportunity. He plans to overcome the wall of racism, fear and oppression. He urgently calls on other African Americans who suffer the same fate to break through barriers, find his dream, and shatter the darkness. The symbolic transformation of the shadow created by the wall into “a thousand lights of sun” and “a thousand whirling dreams of sun” expresses the poet’s desire for a brighter future.