Poe's Dream

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A Dream within a Dream

Edgar Allan Poe’s Dream within a Dream (1), written in 1849 (2), is one of the most powerful English language poems of the 19th century. The power of Poe’s poem stems from its masterful use of rhyme, compactness and simplicity. It’s divided neatly into 2 stanzas, like bookends of a hallucination, the first one 11 lines, and the 2nd 13 lines.

In the first stanza, the Poe wastes no time thrusting the reader immediately into his dream. As if sleepwalking, the reader is being kissed. This powerful technique places the reader as the subject of a romantic fiction. The universal condition of love, loss, and sorrow of separation are introduced in a mere 2 lines. As in many of Poe’s poems, this a tone poem, with the message reinforced by a plaintive repetitive melody. The ending of the first 3 lines: brow, now, avow, all sound in a soft minor key, setting a rhythm and pattern that strengthens the poem by setting the stage of meter and rhyming inevitability. The sounds are familiar and the reader knows they will repeat.

The inevitability that is set up by the rhyming sequence is also a key theme of the poem. Poe tries to find some comfort in the pain of separation. He asks the reader, if hope is abandoned, does it even matter if life is only a dream? Is what we experience in his dream or in life insignificant?

The second stanza takes the reader from the universal human experience of loss, to the microscopic examination of the smallest particles of nature. Amidst the roar of the ocean, Poe grasps at sand, which slips between his fingers. He describes the sand that is washed away by waves of the ocean, only to return again in an endless cycle. By analogy, he compares the loss of his beloved to the cycle of nature. Each grain of sand is beautiful, golden, but will soon disappear into the massive ocean. He asks his god if he…...

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