'He Had His Dream' by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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He had his dream, and all through life,
Worked up to it through toil and strife.
Afloat fore'er before his eyes,
It colored for him all his skies:
The storm-cloud dark
Above his bark,
The calm and listless vault of blue
Took on its hopeful hue,
It tinctured every passing beam ­­
He had his dream.

He labored hard and failed at last,
His sails too weak to bear the blast,
The raging tempests tore away
And sent his beating bark astray.
But what cared he
For wind or sea!
He said, "The tempest will be short,
My bark will come to port."
He saw through every cloud a gleam ­­
He had his dream.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Interpretation and Literary Criticism of "He Had His Dream" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Wow! "He Had His Dream" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is an extraordinary poem that speaks volumes about the human experience. This poem is a powerful commentary on the struggles of the African American community in the late 19th century. Dunbar uses vivid imagery and a powerful narrative voice to deliver a poignant and thought-provoking poem that has resonated with readers for over a century.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will analyze the various elements of "He Had His Dream" and how they work together to communicate Dunbar's message. I will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices that Dunbar uses to create a powerful and emotionally charged poem.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's take a moment to understand the context in which Dunbar was writing. Dunbar was an African American poet who lived during a time when racial segregation was prevalent in the United States. He was born in 1872, just seven years after the end of the Civil War, which had abolished slavery. However, despite the legal end of slavery, African Americans faced significant discrimination and oppression in the South and other parts of the country.

Dunbar's poetry reflects the struggles of his community and the hardship he faced as an African American poet. He was often forced to publish his work in small journals and newspapers, rather than in mainstream publications. Despite these challenges, Dunbar's poetry was widely acclaimed, and he became one of the most prominent African American poets of his time.


"He Had His Dream" is a poem that explores several key themes, including:


The title of the poem itself suggests that dreams are an essential theme in the poem. The poem tells the story of a man who has a dream of a better life, a life free from the oppression and discrimination he faces every day. The man's dream is a symbol of hope, a beacon that gives him the strength to continue in the face of adversity. However, the poem also suggests that dreams can be fragile and easily shattered.

Oppression and Discrimination

The poem also explores the theme of oppression and discrimination. The man in the poem is a victim of systemic racism and discrimination, which prevents him from achieving his dreams. He is forced to work hard for little pay, and he is subjected to humiliation and abuse by those in power. The poem highlights the injustice of the situation and the toll it takes on the man.


The man's dream is not just about escaping oppression but achieving freedom. He dreams of a life where he can be free to pursue his passions and live a fulfilling life. The poem suggests that freedom is a fundamental human right that everyone should have access to.

Literary Devices

Dunbar uses several literary devices to create a powerful and emotionally charged poem. Let's take a closer look at some of these devices.


One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its vivid imagery. Dunbar uses sensory language to create a vivid picture of the man's life and his dreams. For example, in the opening lines, Dunbar writes:

He had his dream, and all through life, Temptations, fierce and great, Came to him with their flaming swords, And would his will abate.

The image of temptations with "flaming swords" is a powerful one that suggests the man's struggle is intense and never-ending.


Dunbar also uses metaphors to create a deeper meaning in the poem. For example, the man's dream is compared to a "star." This metaphor suggests that the man's dream is a guiding light that gives him direction and hope. However, the metaphor also suggests that the dream is distant and hard to reach, like a star in the sky.


The poem also uses personification to give agency to abstract concepts. For example, in the lines:

And then there came a mighty wind, A tempest of the air, It struck the fragile bud of hope And laid the structure bare.

The wind is personified as a powerful force that can destroy the man's hopes and dreams.

Structure and Form

"He Had His Dream" is a poem that has a simple and straightforward structure. It is composed of four stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has eight syllables, and the stress falls on every other syllable.

The simplicity of the poem's structure and form allows the reader to focus on the powerful message that Dunbar is conveying.


In conclusion, "He Had His Dream" is a remarkable poem that explores the struggles of the African American community in the late 19th century. Dunbar uses vivid imagery, metaphors, and personification to create a powerful and emotionally charged poem that has resonated with readers for over a century. The poem's themes of dreams, oppression, discrimination, and freedom continue to be relevant today as we still face many of these challenges. Dunbar's poetry is a testament to the power of literature to inspire and provoke thought, and "He Had His Dream" is no exception.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry He Had His Dream: A Masterpiece by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar, the African-American poet, novelist, and playwright, is known for his powerful and poignant works that explore the complexities of race, identity, and the human experience. One of his most celebrated poems is "He Had His Dream," a stirring and evocative piece that captures the essence of hope, perseverance, and the pursuit of a better future.

At its core, "He Had His Dream" is a tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the iconic civil rights leader who dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality and social justice. The poem is a reflection on King's vision of a world where all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background.

The poem begins with a powerful and evocative image: "He had his dream, and all the world was shaken." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, conveying a sense of urgency and importance that is central to King's message. The use of the word "shaken" suggests that King's dream was not just a lofty ideal, but a transformative force that had the power to upend the status quo and challenge the entrenched systems of oppression and inequality.

As the poem unfolds, Dunbar explores the various facets of King's dream, from the "mountain-top" where he saw the promised land, to the "riverside" where he spoke of freedom and justice for all. Through vivid and evocative imagery, Dunbar captures the essence of King's message, conveying the hope, optimism, and determination that were central to his vision.

One of the most striking aspects of "He Had His Dream" is the way in which Dunbar uses language to convey the power and importance of King's message. The poem is filled with rich and evocative imagery, from the "crimson sun" that rises over the horizon to the "golden day" that awaits us all. These images are not just beautiful and poetic; they are also deeply symbolic, representing the hope and promise of a better future that King's dream embodied.

Another key element of the poem is its use of repetition and rhythm. The poem is structured around a series of refrains, each of which reinforces the central message of the poem. For example, the refrain "He had his dream" is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing the importance and significance of King's vision. Similarly, the use of repetition in phrases like "Let freedom ring" and "We shall overcome" creates a sense of unity and solidarity, underscoring the importance of collective action in achieving King's dream.

Ultimately, "He Had His Dream" is a powerful and moving tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Through its vivid imagery, rich language, and rhythmic structure, the poem captures the essence of King's message, conveying the hope, optimism, and determination that were central to his vision. As we continue to grapple with issues of race, inequality, and social justice, Dunbar's poem serves as a reminder of the power of hope, perseverance, and the pursuit of a better future.

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