My mother and I went to hear St. Olaf’s sublime choir at Sewanee’s All Saints Chapel Thursday night. (This in spite of the fact that we both attended St. Olaf’s archrival, Carleton College.) Amongst the program’s “peace on earth” offerings was an arrangement of Langston Hughes’s “I Dream a World.” I share it here, not only for its message but to honor Hughes, whose birthday was Thursday, along with Black History month.
Hughes has a number of dream poems, some of which ironically refer to the American Dream. (In “Harlem,” Hughes famously shows what happens to “a dream deferred.”) There is no irony in “I Dream a World,” however. If one is to build a society “where man no other man will scorn,” one must imagine it first. Hughes’s simple but powerful poetry helps us do so.
Note how the line “and joy, like a pearl,” breaks the rhythm, calling attention to itself in the process. Joy is at the heart of Hughes’s dreaming.
I Dream a World
By Langston Hughes
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!