'Slave 's Dream, The' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Beside the ungathered rice he lay,
His sickle in his hand;
His breast was bare, his matted hair
Was buried in the sand.
Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his Native Land.

Wide through the landscape of his dreams
The lordly Niger flowed;
Beneath the palm-trees on the plain
Once more a king he strode;
And heard the tinkling caravans
Descend the mountain-road.

He saw once more his dark-eyed queen
Among her children stand;
They clasped his neck, they kissed his cheeks,
They held him by the hand!--
A tear burst from the sleeper's lids
And fell into the sand.

And then at furious speed he rode
Along the Niger's bank;
His bridle-reins were golden chains,
And, with a martial clank,
At each leap he could feel his scabbard of steel
Smiting his stallion's flank.

Before him, like a blood-red flag,
The bright flamingoes flew;
From morn till night he followed their flight,
O'er plains where the tamarind grew,
Till he saw the roofs of Caffre huts,
And the ocean rose to view.

At night he heard the lion roar,
And the hyena scream,
And the river-horse, as he crushed the reeds
Beside some hidden stream;
And it passed, like a glorious roll of drums,
Through the triumph of his dream.

The forests, with their myriad tongues,
Shouted of liberty;
And the Blast of the Desert cried aloud,
With a voice so wild and free,
That he started in his sleep and smiled
At their tempestuous glee.

He did not feel the driver's whip,
Nor the burning heat of day;
For Death had illumined the Land of Sleep,
And his lifeless body lay
A worn-out fetter, that the soul
Had broken and thrown away!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Power of Longfellow's "Slave's Dream"

It's impossible to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Slave's Dream" without being struck by the power of its imagery and language. This poem, which was published in 1842, is both a condemnation of slavery and a tribute to the resilience and dignity of those who suffered under it. In this literary analysis, we'll explore the themes, symbolism, and structure of "Slave's Dream" to better understand why it remains such a powerful and enduring work of poetry.

Themes of "Slave's Dream"

The overarching theme of "Slave's Dream" is the inhumanity of slavery and the longing for freedom. The speaker of the poem is a slave who is dreaming of his homeland, where he was once free and where the sun was brighter and the winds more gentle. He longs to be reunited with his family and to return to the life he once knew. The poem is thus a powerful indictment of slavery as a cruel and inhumane institution that robs people of their freedom, their families, and their dignity.

But "Slave's Dream" is also a celebration of the resilience and perseverance of those who suffered under slavery. The dreamer is not broken by his enslavement; rather, he clings to his memories and his hopes for a better future. His dream is a testament to the human spirit's capacity for resilience and hope, even in the darkest of circumstances.

Symbolism in "Slave's Dream"

One of the most striking aspects of "Slave's Dream" is its use of powerful symbols to convey the dreamer's emotions and experiences. Here are just a few of the most potent symbols in the poem:

Structure of "Slave's Dream"

"Slave's Dream" is a ballad, which is a poem that tells a story in simple, rhyming stanzas. The ballad form was popular in the 19th century and was often used to tell stories of ordinary people and their struggles. Longfellow's use of this form serves to emphasize the universality of the dreamer's experience and to create a sense of urgency and immediacy.

The poem is structured in four-line stanzas, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. This simple structure creates a sense of repetition and rhythm that echoes the dreamer's own sense of longing and yearning. The poem also includes a refrain, which is repeated at the end of each stanza: "Oh, the wild and distant sea, / Breeds the brave in hearts like thee."

Interpretation of "Slave's Dream"

What makes "Slave's Dream" such a powerful and enduring work of poetry? There are many factors, but one of the most significant is Longfellow's ability to convey a sense of empathy and compassion for those who suffered under slavery. The dreamer's experience is vividly rendered through the use of powerful symbols and imagery, and his longing for freedom and his family is palpable.

But the poem is also a call to action. Longfellow is not content to simply describe the dreamer's experience; he wants his readers to feel outraged by the inhumanity of slavery and to be inspired by the dreamer's resilience and hope. The poem is thus simultaneously a work of art and a political statement, a call for justice and a tribute to the human spirit.

It's worth noting that Longfellow himself was a complex figure when it comes to issues of race and slavery. He was an abolitionist who opposed slavery and supported the Union during the Civil War, but he was also a product of his time and held some paternalistic views toward people of color. It's important to acknowledge this complexity when interpreting "Slave's Dream" and to recognize that the poem was a product of its time and place.


In conclusion, "Slave's Dream" is a powerful and enduring work of poetry that continues to resonate today. Longfellow's use of vivid symbols and imagery, combined with his call for justice and compassion, make this poem a timeless work of art. It remains a reminder of the inhumanity of slavery and a tribute to the resilience and hope of those who suffered under it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to transport us to different worlds and evoke emotions we never knew existed. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "The Slave's Dream" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This poem is a powerful depiction of the horrors of slavery and the longing for freedom that every enslaved person felt. In this analysis, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a slave who is sleeping under a tree. The slave is dreaming of a far-off land where he is free and happy. The imagery used in the first stanza is striking, with the use of words like "golden", "azure", and "crimson" painting a picture of a beautiful and idyllic place. The use of colors is significant as it creates a stark contrast between the slave's current reality and his dream world.

The second stanza of the poem is where the true horror of slavery is revealed. The slave dreams of being sold at a slave auction and torn away from his family. The imagery used in this stanza is brutal, with the use of words like "chains", "lash", and "blood" creating a sense of violence and oppression. The use of the word "auction-block" is particularly powerful as it highlights the commodification of human beings during the slave trade.

The third stanza of the poem is where the slave's dream takes a turn towards hope. He dreams of a beautiful woman who comes to him and tells him that he is free. The woman is described as having "angel eyes" and "golden hair", which creates a sense of purity and goodness. The use of the word "angel" is significant as it suggests that the woman is a messenger of God, bringing hope and salvation to the slave.

The fourth and final stanza of the poem is where the slave's dream becomes a reality. He wakes up to find that he is still a slave, but the memory of his dream gives him hope and strength to carry on. The use of the word "memory" is significant as it suggests that the dream is not just a figment of the slave's imagination but a powerful vision of what could be.

The structure of the poem is significant as it mirrors the journey of the slave. The first stanza is a depiction of the slave's current reality, the second stanza is a depiction of the horrors of slavery, the third stanza is a depiction of hope, and the fourth stanza is a depiction of the slave's awakening to reality. The use of a dream sequence is also significant as it allows Longfellow to explore the themes of slavery and freedom in a powerful and evocative way.

The use of literary devices in the poem is also significant. Longfellow uses imagery to create a vivid picture of the slave's dream world and the horrors of slavery. The use of colors, as mentioned earlier, is particularly effective in creating a contrast between the slave's current reality and his dream world. Longfellow also uses symbolism, with the woman in the third stanza representing hope and salvation. The use of repetition, with the phrase "Oh! Freedom" repeated throughout the poem, creates a sense of urgency and longing.

In conclusion, "The Slave's Dream" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of slavery and freedom. The use of a dream sequence allows Longfellow to delve deep into the psyche of the enslaved person and explore their hopes, fears, and desires. The structure of the poem mirrors the journey of the slave, and the use of literary devices such as imagery, symbolism, and repetition creates a powerful and emotional impact. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to evoke emotions and transport us to different worlds.

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