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!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem THE SLAVE’S DREAM


  1. Sajana.v.s. says:

    In this poem we can see a shift from reality to imagination.Here slavery(or bontage) stands for reality and freedom stands for imagination.Freedom is only the dream of the slave.

  2. saikat chakrabarti says:

    I was wondering just how far the american society has travelled from the day this poem was written to yesterday’s democrat nomination of Barack Obama through the civil liberties movement of 1963 by MLK jr

  3. anindita says:

    well, leslie, that was a pretty drastic comment to make. It is, ofcourse, your business entirely, but maybe you ought to think of reading and enjoying poetry as a ‘person’ and not as a Doctor. true, you may not be able to recite poetry in an OT, but maybe when you have kids, you could introduce them to the beauty of words?

  4. Wynona says:

    I’m sorry, I accedentaly pressed enter, but as i was saying to Leslie Johnson from the United States, poetry brings beauty to life, something we are loseing. It has its unique way of saying things. Do you like music? What is the purpose of music? Well, let me tell you somthing, music is a poem, a lyric poem to be exact. Something, I’m pretty sure, you can’t understand Oh and by the way, are you in first grade? It’s because of people like you we’re losing the English language.

  5. Matt says:

    Leslie from the United States, you make Americans seem ignorant to poetry. Before you decide to bash on another person’s poetry, first you should learn how to write proper english because you’ve made yourself look ridiculous. On the other hand, I found the imagery from this poem to be beautiful and well written. And Mufasa, this is not racist at all, it’s not about that. It’s about a young man yearning for his old life in Africa, the beauty of letting go.

  6. Josie Estill says:

    This poem came back to me today as I was sitting on a beach on Bonaire, who knows why. I learned it 50 years ago at school in London as a poetry reading assignment — had to memorize it and then recite it at a large public event. At the age of 12 it had a great effect on me, and still does. Sitting on the beach today, I could only remember the first two verses, somewhat mixed up even, but it touched me deeply again. I came back and looked it up, re-read it several times again — probably with a lot more feeling and understanding than I had so long ago. I wish I had the opportunity to thank the teacher who introduced me to the beauty of these words … and became part of the impetus for me to visit the US (intending to stay a few years) 40 years ago. Plans changed when I met my husband five weeks after arriving in NYC…
    I’m still saddened by these words, especially so as I realize how prevalent slavery still is in our world … when will we learn?

  7. Jo says:

    Leslie: Poems might not directly be linked to subjects such as medicine, but they help to share emotions and experiences, like painting a picture with words, using emotive language and striking imagery. You may not like this type of poetry, but I find it hard to believe you dislike ALL poetry…perhaps you just haven’t found one written in a style and on a subject you feel you can personally relate to? You cannot concentrate learning on one subject and area. I plan to be a doctor myself one day, and I adore poetry and appreciate it. By making comments like your one you are only highlighting your lack of understanding on the issue itself. (I’m sixteen, and people often wrongly get a misled idea about “youth today” being ignorant and unappreciative, so I hope I at least stand against that.)

  8. Leslie Johnson says:

    ok i dont like this peom……seriously speakin i dont like POETRY in the first place cos…i tink poetry is so totally useless in life…..i mean common ok, if one s doin medicine…den wat is de use of a poem…i mean u cant expect dem 2 repeat poetry n do a surgery!!!!!

  9. Ashley Han says:

    The poem (The Slave`s Dream) is a touching poem, I could feel how the slave dreamed. If I was the slave I will have alot of things that I would dream of too. I like this poem because of the heart touching words.

  10. W Leonard says:

    Fify two years ago my class at primary school was asked to choose their favourite poem from our poetry book. I cose this poem and learnt it by heart. I loved it becauase of the choice of words and the change in rhythmn in each verse which so matched the subject matter. Recently I chastised my own class of 18 year old biologists because they had not mastered the skill of learning for life. They challenged me to demonstrate something I had learnt in my youth and I gave them the first 2 verses of this poem. At home that night I tried to remember it all and on finding that I could not remember the 7th verse I looked it up! What joy to read it in its entirety again–absolutely stunning use of the English language!.

  11. ester says:

    i originally come from south africa and learnt this poem 43 years ago at school. i lent the book away and never got it back. now i finally found it again. it has haunted me all these years and i just love this poem. it still applies today – unfortunatly. ester

  12. Natasha says:

    Mufasa from Zimbabwe,
    You confuse current issues in Zimbabwe with a beautiful poem expressing how an african felt when taken as a slave. He expressed the feelings of what he must have felt when he was taken away from his family. This can happen to anyone, especially in todays world, black white or asian. Look what is happening in our country. People are dying of hunger and are made to destroy their own homes. Re-read the poem Mufasa, Longfellow definitely expressed his views on Slavery through his expressive words!Or are you judging him as a white european? Too quick to judge!

  13. Mufasa says:

    This poem is so racist. This Poet should be arrested for this ignorance.

  14. May says:

    I love this poem! It is so touching.The way he died…so sad.His children…Beautiful,just beautiful.

  15. Zoey says:

    OMG!! this poem is so touching!u gotta read it!

  16. Tiffany says:

    This was an awesome poem. I am studying about social studies in my class. This is very touching. It is about a slave who wants his freedom really bad. I think that freedom is evident here.

  17. nai says:

    The poet poses this poem so gently. After reading it, I have a feeling like I were in the place of the slave. And I have a vision of his native land and it reminds me of my home land too. Then, the attachment for his family makes me a deep passionate matter. His tear is much more than the poet’s words. And i can see the sorrow and miss of the slave. The slave put the nature’s essential in a worthy place of his heart. Moreover, the longing for freedom of the slave melts inside my heart. After all, he gets the genuie freedom not from the driver but from the God….
    In the first part of the poem, feeling is some sorrow with tense. But in the end, satisfy with freedom.
    This is the best poem in my likes.

  18. Joseph Valu says:

    In my view: while the scene of the slave’s death is graphic and pitiful, the dream is effulgent. Wadsworth may not have necessarily meant that the particular slave was a king in his native land but that slaves, like all persons, must be recognized as kingly(i.e.worthwhile) in the attributes of their own essence–their own persona; that one must remember that they are kingly in the attributes they possess as human beings :such as possessing love of life, of wife and children and freedom which alas took this slave’s death to retrieve from the human tabernacle of his body, and from human bondage.

  19. Joseph Valu says:

    In my view: while the scene of the slave’s death is graphic and pitiful the poet does not necessarily mean that that slave was kingly in his own native land but that his worth was so. Posssibly, Wadsworth was emphasizing that the essence of a slave’s persona is akin to nobility and has attributes of freedom and domestic love and tranquility which are his/her very own right as a human being. Sadly, it took Death to release this soul from it’s own human tabernacle, and from human bondage.

  20. Hansa Thompson says:

    This is a wonderful poem. It talks about about a slaveas he sleeps and dreams about is omeland. The beauties such as the Nile and th Niger rivers are mentioned, and animals are too. The freedom felt in the poem by the slave is from nature- “…forest, with their myriad tongues, shouted of liberty”, and “…blast of the Desert cried aloud, with a voice so wild and free”. The harshness of a slave’s day does no live i his dream.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.