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“Harlem ( Deferred)” by Langston Hughes and Its 3 Lessons for Entrepreneurs

Today we are examining  “Harlem (Dream Deferred)” by Langston Hughes and Its 3 Lessons for Entrepreneurs. Langston.  Poetry is a great way to learn lessons in a more relaxed way than traditional learning methods.

 Let’s start by checking out the poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat

Or crust and sugar over-

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

As stated above, this great poem has 3 lessons for entrepreneurs. These lessons are:

  1. Dreams die if they are not pursued.
  2. Dreams not pursued are like festering sores.
  3. Dreams explode if they are deferred.

Dreams die if they are not pursued.

The first of the lessons for entrepreneurs found in this poem is that dreams die if they are not pursued. As the narrator discusses what happens when dreams are deferred, there are no positive results. Instead, we read about things drying up. The narrator wonders if a dream deferred dries up and loses life when grapes become raisins.

Dreams are big puffy things. They expand and fill up empty spaces. It is a beautiful thing to see. When our dreams are allowed to flourish and grow they fill empty spaces. The closer we get to making our dreams come true, the more space the dream takes up. On the other hand, when we do not work to pursue our dreams they shrivel up. The longer we ignore our dreams the smaller the space is that they take up in our lives. Eventually, the ignored dreams shrivel up and die. These dead dreams become regrets.

As entrepreneurs, we often have dreams for ourselves, our businesses. Some times we follow those dreams. Other times, we let our dreams stay dreams. We think about them from time to time. But when we don’t pursue them they get harder and harder for us to remember. Eventually, ideas that were once big bold and audacious, die. When we ignore our dreams, they die. When we remember them after they die, it is with sadness and regret. Dreams die if they are not pursued, so chase your dreams and catch them.

Dreams not pursued are like festering sores.

The second of the lessons for entrepreneurs this poem has is that dreams not pursued are like festering sores. The way the narrator describes dreams that are not pursued seems so nasty. They are called sores that fester and run. There is something really nasty about the site of wounds, sores, that fester and run. They look gross. They smell disgusting. Deferred dreams are often like that. When they are deferred or ignored things go terribly wrong in our lives.

When entrepreneurs are forced to put their dreams on hold against their will, bad things happen. They don’t simply forget the dreams they had for their businesses. Quite the opposite is often the case.  More often the entrepreneur looks back at the unrealized dream with regret and sadness. If something is not done, the entrepreneurs regret about not pursuing the dream festers and causes more and more sadness.

When you have a dream go for it. Do the work you need to do to make the dream come true. Don’t make excuses. Don’t look for reasons your dream cannot come true. Instead, make a plan that makes the dream come true. Once you make the plan, do what you need to do to make the plan come true. If you don’t, failure to make the dream come true will fester like an untreated sore.

Dreams explode if they are deferred.

The third of the lessons for entrepreneurs this poem has is that dreams explode if they are deferred. The narrator poses that question in the poem. She asks if deferred dreams explode. It is possible that they do. As stated above, dreams expand and take up empty spaces. The more we pay attention to our dreams, the bigger they become, the more space they take up. If the dreams are not acted upon, if we just leave them be, they explode from lack of use.

In life and in business, there is a time and place for everything.  Sometimes our dreams are time-sensitive. If we do not do the work today to make them come true, we will lose the opportunity. For example, let’s say you dream of participating in a 4th of July festival. If you do not start preparations until July 15th, you have missed your opportunity.  The dream has exploded and is no longer possible because you didn’t take action when you should have.  When you do not take action on your dreams when you should, they explode.  

The poem “Harlem (Dream Deferred)” has three lessons for entrepreneurs. These lessons are that dreams die if they are not pursued, dreams not pursued are like festering sores, and dreams explode if they are deferred. The main thing entrepreneurs should take from this poem is that they should dream, dream big dreams, and then live lives to make those dreams come true. Take a moment now to reflect on these lessons. How can you put them into play in your business? Be sure to share your ideas in the comment section. You may help someone find a breakthrough.


Janeane Davis

View Comments

  • That's a wonderful poem and those are some great point to keep in mind.

  • I love that poems can be written to inspire everyone in any field or stage in your life.

  • I love its message. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the poem, so motivating. Great job!

  • Love this lesson! It's so important to have a dream, but it's also very important to make a plan! Your advice are so helpful!

  • Those statements about dreams are so true! You have to pursue your dreams!

  • Those are all great entrepreneurial tips. It's amazing what we can learn from poets.

  • I love this poem AND this post. I totally agree. A dream you never pursue will eat at you.

  • This poem helps me realized that my dreams matter. I need to start acting upon my dreams

  • What a nice poem. So true that dreams won't come to fruition if you don't pursue them!

  • Love that poem and it always reminds me of that wonderful movie, "Raisin in the Sun." Many lessons to take away.

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Janeane Davis

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