A Dream Within a Dream, by Edgar Allen 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” was first published on March 31, 1849, in the Boston periodical The Flag of Our Union. The theme of the poem is the cyclical nature of life and death, and feelings of loss, grief, and reconciliation.

“A Dream Within a Dream” is twenty-four lines in length in two separate stanzas, each of which uses rhyming couplets in an ‘AA BB CC…’ rhyme scheme. The first stanza is referring to a parting of two people. The speaker continues in the first stanza referring to the parting person as “you,” that though his days have seemed dream-like, which could either be a good or a bad thing depending on the context (You are not wrong, who deem/That my days have been a dream;). The poem articulates that if ‘hope’ were to disappear, would it seem that way or not? This question leads the reader to the ending of the first stanza in lines 11 and 12 “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.”

The second stanza begins with “I stand amid the roar/Of a surf-tormented shore.” Here the speaker describes a roaring ocean that has tormented and ‘beaten up’ the shoreline. The reader comes to find out that this beach’s sand is made up of golden grains of sand.  “A Dream Within a Dream” depicts a feeling of futility and distress over time slipping away rapidly with a sense of regret. The reader is left to ponder, asking the questions the speaker asks in the concluding lines of the poem if their reality is, in fact, real—the opposite of a pleasant daydream.

Bibliography and Further Readings Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service), U.S. Department of the Interior; Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation; The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, The Life and Writings of Edgar Allan Poe.

Credits Composed by Cameron Slack, Fall 2018.  Reading by Cameron Slack.

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American Poetry and Poetics by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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