What does the poem Dream within a dream mean?

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I am having trouble analyzing the poem Dream within a dream. What exacly does Edgar mean?

-- Anonymous, June 09, 2000



As with many poets, Poe often revised and reused poetry or verses written earlier with his later works. This may have been because the thought, concept or theme of the earlier poem was, in his mind, applicable to the idea he wished to convey later in his life. The dilemma with Poes poem, A Dream Within A Dream is that I am not sure with which version you are having difficulty. Therefore, I will presume it is the later, March 1849 version.

This poem, differing significantly from its earlier versions, was printed in the Flag of Our Union on March 31, 1849 and was the first time, as I understand, that it appeared with the title, A Dream Within a Dream. It was first included in Poes Tamerlane and Other Poems in 1827 with the title, Imitation and again in Al Aaraaf in 1829 as To ___ ___ ___ .

Edward H. ONeill, in his bibliographical notes of Edgar Allan Poe  Complete Tales and Poems makes the observation that, Poe was constantly concerned with the dream-state. Here he refers to that middle stratum between sleeping and waking. I do not know that I agree fully with ONeill in this regard. However, there appears to be a general consensus that Poe maintained an interest in this cognizant state of unconsciousness where one is, by all appearances unconscious (asleep), yet consciously aware of his surroundings. At least, thats my interpretation.

The interpretation of the poem is most certainly not a universal one. I have read several over the years and, like most Poe enthusiasts, I like mine best. This, by no measure, makes it the correct one but, simply, the one that causes me, personally, the least conflict.

The first eleven lines open the poem and allude to thoughts of departure or change from what is, to what he wishes it to be. Here, I believe, he refers to the transition of the state of slumber to the conscious waking state. He speaks of his life thus far as if it had been a dream and that if his hopes have not, by now, been fulfilled, then shall they ever be and asks if it is as such for all of us. Are all our hopes merely a fantasy to be seen or enjoyed only in our dreams, a wish that is to remain unfulfilled except in our imaginative unconscious state where reality places no limitations or boundaries upon our hopes.

In the last thirteen lines, I believe he refers to the conscious state or reality. The first two lines suggests that he has reached a point in his turbulent life, perhaps a turning point and one that he has envisioned in his hope filled dreams. He speaks of all the things in his life of any substance or significance, things that he values most above all else. He goes on to speak of his inability to achieve happiness and of the inevitable loss of his most treasured possessions or, perhaps relationships. He speaks further of how little he has asked of life and his sorrow for their loss. He asks God why he cannot hold on to these treasures and why it is that he cannot savor at least one true cherished possession. Finally, he asks once again, whether it is fantasy that is only a dream, or is it that reality itself is but a dream as well.

I suppose this is not the best interpretation or even the most logical one, Konstantin, but it is the one that best suits my love of his poetry.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, June 12, 2000

Jetis, That was a lovely answer and one which I am also of the same opinion. Thank you for putting it so eloquently into words.

-- Anonymous, September 18, 2000

Although i am just a 15 year old girl, i am a huge fan of Edgar Allen Poe. I really think that he has this dream(literally a dream, like when you sleep)about this woman that is toally out of his reach(so that would be a dream to be with her) therfore it is a dream within a dream. A lot of people ask the question, then why the referance to the sand? I think that he is trying to symbolize that this "dream" is slipping through his hands like the sand would. I really do not believe that anyone can interprut one of Edgars' dreams the way he meant them because abvisioly,he was a disturbed indivudial. But that is the best i can do.

-- Anonymous, February 24, 2002

What about the thought of losing yet another person to tuberculosis? The image of kissing upon the brow is of kissing a departed loved one on the forehead as they are passing or have recently passed over to death. The image of grains of sand slipping through his hands is all his loved ones to whom he has lost to "the pitiless wave" metaphor for tuberculosis...

-- Anonymous, March 14, 2002

I believe he is expressing in this poem his lost expectations he had in life (his hopes of what life was to be for him)when he writes "you are not wrong, who deem that my days have been, a dream", and now "he stands amid the roar of a surf tormented shore" representing his reflection upon his lost hopes and where he is now in life. The grains of sand are the hopes he still has for the future, but they are slipping away as time passes, and will they also be but a memory "a dream" in this life of memories "dreams".

-- Anonymous, October 29, 2002

I always thought it was about death. When he refers to himself 'parting' at the begining he is saying he will soon be dead. He backs this up with his lose of hopes- when you are alive there is always the possibility stuff will get better- so hope is always there, until you are dying. He then goes on to the second part which is an analogy for him trying to grasp on to his last time on this earth. And that is the dream within the dream. Because he was alwsays so concerned with what reality and dreams are, he is saying that life, once you get to the stage when you are dying it all seems like a blissful dream you are trying desperately to hold on to. And the fact that you are trying to hold on to it 9is a dream in itself. So you are dreaming that you can hold on to life, but life itself is just a dream, a fantasy. anyways, that's what i always thought.

-- Anonymous, October 31, 2002

"A dream within a dream." I typed this into google tonight because last night I had the notion of one and have been obsessing over the concept sense. I had never heard of the poem before but find it rather touching especially taking with it some of the other earlyer versions. A dream within a dream ceases to be a fantasy because you are no longer dreaming that you are truly awake. Another notion I have of this concept is that if a dream is what you are left with when you strip away reality then what are you left with when you strip away the dreaming reality and experience the dream within a dream. I think this is very important. A dream within a dream is not a false awakening in my openion. A false awakening is when you awaken from your dream only to find that you are still actually asleep. It is also not a lucid dream, where you dream that you are dreaming. I consider myself to be some what of an expert at lucid dreaming but I have never had a dream within a dream. I do intend to dream one now though, and what glorious wonders I hope to find.

-- Anonymous, April 26, 2003

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