A Dream Within a Dream

July 16, 2008

A Dream Within a Dream

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

This isn’t a poem just about the transience of experiences. It isn’t only about that love or conviction which once seems so concrete seeping through our existence like sand through the fingers. What I find most enigmatic — what Poe appears to be sick enough to remind us repeatedly — is that something in us always wants things to be otherwise, this being the only concrete. The leaking grasp is real, the reliance on transience is real, the self-questioning that resists change is real. The “dream within a dream” is, after all, not like the dream itself. It is not more insubstantial than, let alone as insubstantial as, the stuff of dreams: it is the predictable face of fantasies to themselves, the point they know themselves. How do dreams appear in dreams anyway?

Gwee Li Sui

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