What Dreams May Come

What Dreams May Come

This week’s choices are all about dreams.

W.B. Yeats lulls us to slumber with “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”.

Edgar Allen Poe asks us if life is not “A Dream Within a Dream”.

Finally we awaken from John Donne’s “The Dream”.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Prospero’s speech in The Tempest Act IV, Scene I, by William Shakespeare

Poem 67. Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats (1865—1939)
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

This is such a short and simple poem, but it is a little jewel—Aedh offers his dreams to his beloved in beautifully expressed words. I like it because of the metaphorical resemblance of our skies to patterned cloths—marvellous sunsets, sunrises and all between reflected in the endless variety that can be found in fabrics. The most touching part, to me, is the final lines—it is that critical moment when you have told a potential partner your dearest thoughts and are waiting to see if they consider them as precious as you do.


Poem 68. A Dream Within a Dream

All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809—1849)
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?

In this poem, Poe suggests that our actions and experiences, evanescent as they are, must be meaningless since they have no lasting effect—“all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”.

I like the way Poe suggests the transience of life and our individual impact on the world: “if hope has flown away in a night, or in a day, in a vision or in none, is it therefore the less gone” and the metaphor of his second stanza where he likens life to grasping after “grains of the golden sand” as the tide sweeps up the shore and “the pitiless wave” gathers them in.

Poem 69. The Dream

Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths, and fables histories;

John Donne (1572—1631)
Dear love, for nothing less than thee
Would I have broke this happy dream;
  It was a theme
For reason, much too strong for fantasy.
Therefore thou waked’st me wisely; yet
My dream thou brokest not, but continued’st it.
Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths, and fables histories;
Enter these arms, for since thou thought’st it best,
Not to dream all my dream, let’s act the rest.
As lightning, or a taper’s light,
Thine eyes, and not thy noise waked me;
  Yet I thought thee
(For thou lovest truth) an angel, at first sight;
But when I saw thou saw’st my heart,
And knew’st my thoughts beyond an angel’s art,
When thou knew’st what I dreamt, when thou knew’st when
Excess of joy would wake me, and camest then,
I must confess, it could not choose but be
Profane, to think thee any thing but thee.
Coming and staying show’d thee, thee,
But rising makes me doubt, that now
  Thou art not thou.
That love is weak where fear’s as strong as he;
’Tis not all spirit, pure and brave,
If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have;
Perchance as torches, which must ready be,
Men light and put out, so thou deal’st with me;
Thou camest to kindle, go’st to come; then I
Will dream that hope again, but else would die.

I like this poem because it speaks of love. For all the archaic English, the intent is quite clear. Donne explores the feeling of waking from a pleasant dream to discover an even better reality—the state of loving and being truly loved in return. He compares his beloved to an angelic figure and then changes his mind—if they know him so well that they can judge the best moment to wake him, they are in a class of their own. I find the last stanza the hardest to parse, but Donne seems to say that once awake, he begins to doubt—the line, “love is weak where fear’s as strong as he” neatly sums up the diminishing effect of our fears of rejection and shame. The last lines seem to say that if his lover is as true as he dreamed, all will be well, but otherwise he would rather die.