Loading...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Dream within a Dream, by Edgar Allan Poe

Summary:
“A Dream within a Dream,” a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1849, is a conversation poem: a farewell to a beloved and concurrence with their assertion―the author agrees that reality we see or seem has been a dream. Those memories with his beloved were happy for the author is sad and lamenting as he weeps and weeps the passing of those memories or dreams to time. The “pitiless waves” is an analogy for the cruel passage of time (22). The question―was our time together a reality or dream … hope flies, night turns to day, visions become none, and sand creeps? The author asks God to intervene: “O God! Can I not save (21)/ ‘One’ from the pitiless waves?” (22) The passage of dreams is described as violent, “a surf-tormented shore” (13), and it makes the author “weep” (18). The dreams lost are compared to “grains of golden sand” (15). The “dream within a dream” are memories as is seen or seems. The dream as it seems is an internal for the author, while the dream as he sees is external.

De Pereda, Antonio.  1655.
The author questions the reality of what he sees during the night or the day, vision or none: are those sights a dream since what he saw has passed? He questions the reality of what seems to be when the surf crashes along the shore, the grains of sand slips through his fingers: are those a dream since what seems has passed? The final question posed―”Is ‘all’ that we see or seem (23)/But a dream within a dream?” (24) His concerns―are what he sees realities, and are what it seems realities, or both a fantasy within a fantasy. The author wants to retain the memories as reality but with the passage of time, as indicated by the waves and golden sand, what ones sees and seems is a passing dream.

Füssli, Johann Heinrich. 1802.
Analysis:
This poem is Gothic. Gothic poems are characterized as extremely emotional, inherently sublime, and disturbing in atmosphere. They are psychologically anxious, mysterious and dark caused by frustration, despair, madness, and death. Those characterizations are presented in two lines: “O God! Can I not save (21) / ‘One’ from the pitiless waves?” (22) Extreme emotion, frustration, despair and fear of death, is present when the author cries, “O God!” (21). Awe inherent in the sublime is present when the author realizes he cannot “save (21) / ‘One’” (22). The atmosphere is disturbing when the author refers to the waves as “pitiless” (22). The author identifies his psychological anxiety when he says the memories cannot be saved not even “One” (22). Mystery and darkness appears when the author cries, “O God!” (21) Madness and death is present when the author realizes he cannot save even one reality, but time will take it away like the “pitiless wave” (22). The author cries to a supernatural being is desperate with psychological anxiety, for he cannot save one memory, the waves take on personification for being pitiless: they are without regard for his desires. Like the grains of golden sand life and life’s golden memories slip through his fingers with the passage of time, much like waves eroding the sand on a beach.

Briullow, Karl. 19th century.
This poem has two stanzas, and two couplets. The first stanza is lines one through nine, and the second stanza is twelve through twenty-two. The couplets are lines ten and eleven, and twenty-three and twenty-four. The first stanza is a response to a proposition posed by a beloved and farewell to the beloved. He asserts an agreement: “You are not wrong, who deem” (4) / That my days have been a dream” (5): the rest of the poem is a response to that assertion. The author poses a question as hope flies during the night or day without present vision―is it gone?

The second stanza is lines twelve through twenty-two. It is written in the first person coupled with verbs: “I stand” (12), “I hold” (14), “I weep” (18), and “can I” (21). The author stands, holds, weeps and then begs the question―can he not save one memory from the passage of time? How does he address this question? He stands amid a violent shore. What does the author try to hold? He tries to hold “golden sand” (15). What happens to the sand? The sand creeps “through [his] fingers” (17). What happens when he loses those memories? He weeps. What can the author do about this loss? He calls out to God to save just one precious memory from the passage of time.

van Gogh, Vincent. 1888.
Lines ten and eleven, and twenty-three and twenty are couplets. They consist of two lines that rhyme with “seem” and “dream,” but they do not have the same feet or meter. This couplet is an epigram: it is brief, clever, and memorable. For example, “’All’ that we see or seem (10) / Is but a dream within a dream” (11), and the next: “Is ‘all’ that we see or seem (23) / But a dream within a dream?”(24) are memorable lines that rhyme with alliteration and assonance. Alliteration is with the “s” sound in the words “see” and “seem”(10) and (23), and “d” sound in the words “dream” and “dream” (11) and (24). Assonance is presented with the “ee” sound in “see,” “seems,” “dream,” and “dream” (10), (11), (23), and (24). The alliteration and assonance within each of those lines are referred to as an internal rhyme. The first couplet is a response to a question: are memories gone? The response is an affirmative statement. The second couplet is a response to a question: can he not save one memory from the passage of time? The response begs the question.

van Gogh, Vincent. 1890.
This poem rhymes: in the first stanza it is―AAABBCCDDBB, and in the second stanza―EEFFGGGHHIIBB. It has feet and is metered: lines one has three feet, and all feet are trochaic; line two has three feet, and all feet are trochaic; line three has three feet, and all feet are iambic; line four has three feet, and all feet are iambic; line five has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line six has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line seven has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line eight has four feet, and three trochaic with a final spondee; line nine has four feet, and three are iambic with a final spondee; line ten has three feet, and three are iambic; line eleven has four feet, and four are iambic; line twelve has four feet, and four are iambic; line thirteen has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line fourteen has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line fifteen has three feet, and one is trochaic with the final two as iambic; line sixteen has three feet, and three are iambic; line seventeen has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line eighteen has four feet with a caesurae in the middle as indicated by the hyphen, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line nineteen has three feet, and three are iambic; line twenty has three feet, and three are iambic; line twenty-one has three feet, and three are iambic; line twenty-two has three feet, and three are iambic; line twenty-three has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee; line twenty-four has four feet, and three are trochaic with a final spondee. The variations in feet and meter do not match the changes in the rhyming scheme. The couplets do not match in feet and meter, but do match in rhyme.

van Gogh, Vincent. 1882.
The author has six variations: the feet vary between three and four, and the meter variation include―iambic, trochaic, and spondees. For the reader, the iambic meter expresses a passive, a more natural gait than the trochaic. The trochaic meter tends to be more urgent and insistent. The spondees highlight important words, such as “dream” (5), “away” (6), “day” (7), “none” (8), “gone” (9), “shore” (13), “hand” (14), “deep” (17), “weep” (18), “seems” (23), “dream” (24). When I dream away my day are all those memories gone? I stand upon the shore as dreams slip beyond my reach into the deep hollows of death. I weep for what it seems―those memories are but a dream. This poem is one of despair as indicated by the accentuated words of ‘gone’ (9), ‘All’ (10), ‘One’ (22), and ‘all’ (23). The reader is left with the question―through the passage of time, are our dreams that we see or seem gone one and all?
Munch, Edvard. 1882.

Poem:
“A Dream within a Dream,” by Edgar Allen Poe

(1) Take this kiss upon the brow!

(2) And, in parting from you now,

(3) Thus much let me avow―

(4) You are not wrong, you deem

(5) That my days have been a dream:

(6) Yet if hope has flown away

(7) In a night, or in a day,

(8) In a vision or in none,

(9) Is it therefore the less ‘gone’?

(10) ‘All’ that we see or seem

(11) Is but a dream within a dream.

(12) I stand amid the roar

(13) Of a surf-tormented shore,

(14) And I hold within my hand

(15) Grains of the golden sand

(16) How few! Yet how they creep

(17) Through my fingers to the deep

(18) While I weep―while I weep!

(19) O God! Can I not grasp

(20) Them with a tighter clasp?

(21) O God! Can I not save

(22) ‘One’ from the pitiless wave?

(23) Is ‘all’ that we see or seem

(24) But a dream within a dream?


Pictures:
#1. Edgar Allan Poe, portrait.

#2. De Pereda, Antonio. “The Knight’s Dream. Oil on Canvas. Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernado. Calle de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain. 1655.

#3. Füssli, Johann Heinrich. “Nachtmahr” (Nightmare). Oil on Canvas. Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Goethemuseum. Frankfurt am Main, Germany. 1802.

#4. Briullow, Karl (1799-1852). “Nun’s Dream.” Oil on Canvas. 19th century.

#5. van Gogh, Vincent. “Café Terrace at Night.” Oil on Canvas. Kröller-Müller Museum. Otterlo, Netherlands. 1888.

#6. van Gogh, Vincent. “On the Threshold of Eternity.” Oil on Canvas. Kröller-Müller Museum. Otterlo, Netherlands. 1890.

#7. van Gogh, Vincent. “Sorrowful Old Man.” Lithograph. Kröller-Müller Museum. Otterlo, Netherlands. 1892.

#8. Munch, Edvard. “The Scream.” The National Gallery. Oslo, Norway, 1893.

#9. Edgar Allan Poe, signature.