A Dream within a dream

18th June 2022. Reading Time: 4 minutes General. 3016 page views. 3 comments.

In his poem 'A dream within a dream' Edgar Allan Poe asks the simple yet complicated life question, is what we see real?

Edgar Allan Poe was famous for his macabre and mystery poetry and short stories. The Raven comes to mind and is a personal favourite of mine. In 1849, he published a poem titled 'A Dream within a Dream'.

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?

Poetry is often open to interpretation and it is thought that Poe was very aware of his mortality at this point. Battling with alcoholism he was said to struggle with daydreams and what was reality which is fitting when you read into this poem. The main question posed in this poem 'Is it all a dream?'. He is unable to grasp even one grain of sand eluding to the point that it is all but a dream. I can draw comparisons to the movie 'Inception'. It made famous the concept of a dream within a dream (within a dream). The main character of the film had a spinning top that he would spin. If the top kept spinning, it meant he was dreaming. If it stopped spinning, it meant he was in reality as he was so deep in dreaming he could not tell what was real and what wasn't. This was also referenced in Picnic in Hanging Rock which I have spoken about in this blog several times. The story starts with the phrase '"What we see and what we seem is but a dream. A dream within a dream".

Published March 31st 1849 in Boston's edition of 'A Flag of our union'

It is this point that makes you wonder. How do we know what is real? When we dream, some see it as a form of pre-cognition. When we are visited in our dreams by people who have passed, it is said to be them coming to communicate with us. The themes of our dreams can be read and can give insight into what is happening in our lives. For example, I often dream that my teeth fall out which can represent insecurity. Our fears can play out in our dreams which in turn become nightmares. We are so connected to our dreams that even we sometimes can fail to establish if they are real. How many times have you woken up angry at your partner because they have done something in a dream to upset you? Once I didn't speak to my husband for 2 days because I had such a convincing dream, I thought it had really happened. I was angry, I cried and eventually I realised I had dreamed the whole thing. During the day our minds can wander - daydreams. Sometimes these are seen as premonitions whilst other times just a figment of imagination. How do we know what is real?

There is no real answer to this question of course. It is highly individual and only a person can establish if something really happened or not or what their dreams or feelings mean. This poem however makes you really think and in a lot of ways was well ahead of its time. More to point when you look at a lot of Poe's work and his references to dreams, one has to wonder - what was he dreaming about?

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. - The Raven

Is there more than one reality? When we slip into a dream are we living our life in another realm? Are our dreams a reflection of ourselves almost like a form of scrying where you are more looking at a reflection of ourselves? Is a dream all but an emotional hallucination? Is a dream the key to the future? A dream is not bound by time. We may dream for what feels likes minutes yet it seems to be hours when we wake up and look at the clock. Does this mean a dream is a peek into what our consciousness is capable of? Is a dream an extension of our consciousness? Again I don't know any answers to any of these questions, I just find this poem rather enlightening when you really deconstruct it and needs discussion.

What are your thoughts? What do you think Poe is telling us? What are your thoughts on dreams? Is it just a dream or is it something more?

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  • Joseph Kapusta 5 years ago

    I can't help but think that objective analysis of dreams might reveal a glimpse into what lies beyond corporeal death, an example of the type of consciousness that survives and exemplifies the ultimate destination for us; a reward (we would be conscious of our situation just as in a good dream based on our experiences) or punishment ( dreams making no sense whatsoever from random subconscious accumulations) to be left in a state of entropy toward an end of complete non-existence (heaven and hell would not be places but 'states').

  • Kruna 5 years ago

    No one knows. In dreams it seems the emotions are stronger and you just ‘know’. Maybe that is how eternal life is? If it is nice, ok, if not, oh, no!

  • Christine 5 years ago

    I perceive he was a tormented soul living and dreaming by day and night and unable to distinguish the difference