“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.|
|Füssli, Johann Heinrich. 1802.|
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.|
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.|
|van Gogh, Vincent. 1890.|
|van Gogh, Vincent. 1882.|
|Munch, Edvard. 1882.|
“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?
#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.