A DREAM WITHIN A DREAM
by
Edgar Allan Poe


Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

"A Dream Within A Dream" is one of Poe's most beautiful and haunting creations. When compared with his dark and despairing stories, the poem at first seems less typical of Poe as it speaks of hopes and dreams rather than bereavement, insanity and pain. Although the darkest of Poe's poetry examines love lost and painful deaths, "A Dream Within A Dream" deals with one man's loss of hope. The poem is a realisation of the futility and effervescence of mortal existence, and thus the fantasy of dreams.

Though the discourse of the poem seems to reflect the despair of a man entering his final days, Poe actually wrote this poem as a young man of eighteen, reflecting upon his future for which he saw little hope:

Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
Here Poe states that hope has left him, and left him helpless. He reminds the reader that no matter how hope leaves, it is gone nonetheless.

Delving into the metaphysical, Poe gives the statement at the end of the first stanza, that:

All that we see or seem is
But a dream within a dream.
He questions not only his understanding of his own existence and purpose, but the entire world's existence and purpose. It is clear that he positions the reader to doubt that life is anything more than a meaningless dream within a dream. Clearly the poem signifies different things on different levels. This is the beauty of Poe's poetry, that it is so open to interpretation.

The tone of the second stanza alters significantly from the first, and Poe begins to use simple yet powerful imagery to illustrate the futility of life. He stands amid the roar / of a shore tormented shore that metaphorically represents his life, trying to clutch a handful of the golden sand as it sifts through his fingers. The golden sand is symbolic of many things. It could represent important people in his life that are leaving him one by one, or the precious moments of time that inevitably slip through his fingers, lost to the deep.

Indeed, Poe lost many of the women in his life through various diseases and troubles. Poe cries to God while he weeps in despair over his loss:

While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
This powerful and evoking language exhibits the despondent, despairing, almost manic mood of the poem. Poe employs the use of simple emotive words to invite the reader to experience his frame of mind. The reader experiences a feeling of nostalgia, and an overwhelming sense of loss.

By using a fairly consistent rhyme scheme that has slight variations, Poe slows down the rhythm of the poem, allowing the tone to be properly heard by the reader. The artful rhyme pattern and the two extra lines in the second stanza both lend themselves to the sweeping, unfixed, escaping imagery that gives the poem its unique nature.


Happens to be one of my favourite poems from my favourite author of ALL time. Written for a Year 11 English assignment on a Romantic Era American poet/poem.

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