Hold Fast To Dreams

Langston Hughes? Robert Frost? Zig Ziglar? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A poem about the need to maintain aspirational dreams employed a vivid metaphor based on a bird with a damaged wing. The author was Langston Hughes or Robert Frost. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1932 Langston Hughes published the collection “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems”. 1 The book included “Dreams” which consisted of eight lines split into two verses. “The Anniston Star” of Alabama reprinted the work on October 2, 1932. These were the first four lines: 2

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1937 a columnist in the “Los Angeles Times” printed the final four lines of the poem which we omit here due to copyright restrictions. 3

In 1948 the poem appeared in the compilation “An Inheritance of Poetry” collected and arranged by Gladys L. Adshead and Annis Duff. 4

In 1963 “Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables” included an entry for Langston Hughes that began with four lines of the poem: 5

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

“Happiness is a matter of adjustment,” says the man who has had to adjust to more things than most people.

In 1999 motivational author Zig Ziglar referred to the words of Hughes. The metaphor was converted into a simile: 6

I believe it was Browning who said, “Your reach should exceed your grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Langston Hughes wrote, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die then life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly. ” Yes, we need those dreams or, if you prefer, a vision.

In 2000 “The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations” included a flawed entry crediting the simile text to Robert Frost. 7

In conclusion, Langston Hughes deserves credit for the poem “Dreams” which he published in the 1932 collection “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems”. The work is very popular, and it has been appeared in many compilations during the ensuing decades.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of the right wing of a kestrel from “Animal Locomotion” (1874) by J. Bell Pettigrew.

(Great thanks to J whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)


  1. 1994 (Copyright 1932), The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, Including Seven Additional Poems by Langston Hughes, Poem: Dreams, Quote Page 4, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1932 October 2, The Anniston Star, Be Yourself by Iva Cook, Quote Page 5, Column 6, Anniston, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1937 August 25, Los Angeles Times, On The Other Side With E. V. Durling, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1948, An Inheritance of Poetry, Collected and Arranged by Gladys L. Adshead and Annis Duff, Poem: Dreams by Langston Hughes, Quote Page 375, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1963, Celebrity Register: An Irreverent Compendium of American Quotable Notables, Edited by Cleveland Amory with Earl Blackwell, Profile of Langston Hughes, Quote Page 306, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  6. 1999, Something Else To Smile About: More Encouragement and Inspiration for Life’s Ups and Downs by Zig Ziglar, Chapter: Let Your Reach Exceed Your Grasp, Quote Page 10, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. (Verified with scans)
  7. 2000, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, Compiled by Mark Water, Topic: Dream, Quote Page 290, Baker Books: A Division of Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans)