Dreaming Black Boy Poem by James Berry Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


The poem “Dreaming Black Boy” is written by the poet James Berry. In the poem, the poet persona is a black man who has suffered racial discrimination and lack of opportunities due to his skin color. The man wishes to live a life full of possibilities and learning. He wants to receive all the necessities that should have been given to him for being a human being but were kept from him due to his race.

About the poet

James Berry was born in 1924 in Jamaica. He later settled in England in the 40s. His poems use the English language mixed with Jamaican terms. He is best known for his poems “Bluefoot Traveller” and “News for Babylon”. He also published a collection of poems called “Only One of Me: Selected Poems” in 2004.


The poem is divided into five stanzas, each varying in length. The stanzas consist of five to seven lines.

Stanza 1

I wish my teacher’s eyes wouldn’t 

go past me today. Wish he’d know 

it’s okay to hug me when I kick 

a goal. Wish I myself wouldn’t hold back when answer comes. 

I’m no woodchopper now 

like all ancestors.


The poet persona starts the poem by talking about how he wishes the world for him. He wants a world where his teachers would pay him attention in class. He wants his coach to come and hug him when he scores a goal. He wants to live where he doesn’t have to hold himself back in class and give his answers confidently. He knows that the world has changed, he is no longer a woodchopper like his ancestors before him.


The first stanza shows how the boy is ignored by his teachers in class because of his skin color. He wants attention and recognition for his participation. He wants recognition when he does well and scores a goal for the team. He wants his coach to hug him like he hugs other students for their achievements. In the next lines, the persona talks about how all of this has made him lose confidence in himself and now he second-guesses himself. He no longer wants to hold himself back in class and proudly give his answers. He understands that the times have changed from the past. He is no longer a slave like his ancestors. He is free but he still does not get to fully expertise his freedom.

Stanza 2 

I wish I could be educated 

to the best of tune up, and earn 

good money and not sink to lick 

boots. I wish I could go on every 

crisscross way of the globe 

and no persons or powers or 

hotel keepers would make it a waste.


The persona wants to receive the best of education and through that have the ability to earn a good living. Instead he has to do menial and demanding jobs just to get by in his life. He wants to be ale to travel freely, go anywhere in the world and not be denied entry by people or hotel keepers.


The persona wants the best possible education for himself. He compares himself to a machine and wants to be “tuned up” to perform at his full potential. He wants good job opportunities that will allow him to earn a good salary and thus live a good life. He does not want to work demeaning and menial jobs that would make him “sink to lick boots”. He wishes to travel the globe and go anywhere without having to worry about admittance. He does not want restrictions and discrimination by global institutions and people.

Stanza 3

I wish life wouldn’t spend me out 

opposing. Wish same way creation 

would have me stand it would have 

me stretch, and hold high, my voice 

Paul Robeson’s, my inside eye 

a sun. Nobody wants to say 

hello to nasty answers.


He wishes that he would not have to live his whole life being opposed and oppressed. He wants a life that would allow him to stand straight, stretch his arms and hold his voice high like Paul Robeson. He does not even wish to say hello to people because he knows they will say something nasty to him.


The persona does not want “life” to exhaust him out completely because he would have to live his entire life trying to defend his existence and right to be alive. He does not want that. He wants the right to live the same way everyone has. He wants “creation” to give him the right to live properly, stands up with his head held high and his voice strong. He makes a comparison to Paul Robeson and says that he wishes to live like him. Paul Robeson was an African-American man who had a distinct voice and spoke up for the rights of fellow black men. The persona wishes to be like him. But he does not want to speak out because he knows that he answers will be repulsive and racist.

Stanza 4

I wish torch throwers of night 

would burn lights for decent times. 

Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray 

for themselves. Wish people wouldn’t 

talk as if I dropped from Mars.


The speaker says that he wishes that people who discriminated against the black community would not do so and would rather pray for their own salvation. He does not want people to react as if he is an extra-terrestrial and not a human being.


This stanza makes a reference to the KKK, Ku Klux Klan, and calls them “torch throwers”. KKK is a group white supermacists. This is a reference to how the KKK would persecute and lynch black people. The persona wishes that they would stop doing so and look at their actions. He calls them out on their hypocrisy as they do all of this under the guise of religions and says that they should rather pray for their own salvation. The persona doesn’t want people to react as if he was a different being altogether. He wants them to stop acting like he is from Mars and does it belong in this society.

Stanza 5 

I wish only boys were scared 

behind bravados, for I could suffer. 

I could suffer a big big lot. 

I wish nobody would want to earn 

the terrible burden I can suffer.


The persona wishes that only young boys would pretend to be brave while they felt scared, but he knows that even adults do that. He also wishes that no one would ever have to suffer the way he is suffering.


The speaker presents his last wish and talks about how adults were actually brave. But they hide behind the fake masks of bravado while being scared inside like little boys. The speaker can not look up to them for protection because they themselves are scared to oppose the discrimination they face. In the end, he leaves the reader with his final wish that no one has to suffer the way he is suffering. This is a noble wish to save other black people from being discriminated against.