“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?

Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most well-known representatives of Romanticism in nineteenth-century American literature. He possessed a really versatile creative genius: Poe was famous as an editor and a literary critic, as a poet and essayist, as well as the architect of the new genres, including psychological prose, detective and (to some extent) even science fiction. His personality was full of contradictions that are in one way or another reflected in almost all of his works. It is very likely that the paradoxical quality of Poe’s creative individuality enabled him to alter the direction of modern literature.

Poe was prone to mystical perception of reality, as well as irrationality and doom – qualities that made him a pioneer of the Decadent movement in American literature. The poem “A Dream Within a Dream” has features of decadence and rebel against reality. This rebel actually took place in his own life. Poe earned his living with writing and thus had to work only in the more or less financially promising genres, like literary criticism or essay. That’s why he could not afford much time and effort for “pure” artistic work. The alcohol addiction did not help, too.

The poem “A Dream Within a Dream” starts like a story – with a farewell kiss. It is immediately followed by a philosophical idea of life as a dream, of living beyond the limits of reality: “That my days have been a dream”.

One can clearly perceive the comparison with sand-glass as a symbol of the transience of life. The author himself becomes a “sand-glass”: “I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand — How few”. The fear of the forthcoming and inevitable loss appears: “О God! can I not save _One from_ the pitiless wave?”

Grains of sand are slipping through his fingers, disappearing forever. Nothing is left but memories. Yet, the author is not sure whether he can trust even his memory, so he asks himself the question: “Is all that we see or seem But a dream within a dream?”.

The poet’s perception of his own life as a “dream within a dream” is obvious in a number of his works. It is very likely that this idea made it easier for him to resign himself to the life he was leading: financial difficulties, lack of recognition in the US (in spite of the fact that he was well-known in Europe), death of his wife.

The poem “A Dream Within a Dream” is a desperate attempt to understand whether one’s fate is pre-destined and nothing can be changed. The author is obviously inclined to this way of thinking.

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk