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Deferred and Delayed -- Writer's Poke #151

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?

-- Langston Hughes

For Writers:

Delayed gratification is supposed to be a sign of maturity. That's what we're told, right? And I don't doubt that there's a lot of truth to the idea.

If you can't afford a $5000 vacation to Europe, then you probably shouldn't just put it on the credit card and go, right? Save you money for ten years and pay cash for the trip. (Just assume that you'll be around in ten years, and that you'll still have both the health and desire to want to go to Europe.)

Take this classic example from psychology: the marshmallow test. If told that they can eat one marshmallow now or two marshmallows when an adult returns to check on them, a toddler will inevitably eat the one marshmallow as soon as they can, whereas older children will learn to wait for the adult to return with the promise of the second marshmallow. In this simple example, the value of waiting seems clear.

So perhaps it's not fair of me to bring into the discussion Langston Hughes's "A Dream Deferred." The subject matter of his poem and the traditional idea behind delayed gratification aren't exactly the same, right?


What's the difference between delayed gratification and a dream deferred? Is there one? Is it really immature to avoid deferring your dreams, to stop delaying your gratification?

"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends." -- William Shakespeare


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