A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
Notes and Annotation by Michael J. Cummings..© 2006
Type of Work and Date of Publication
......."A Dream Within a Dream" is a two-stanza lyric poem that was first published in 1849. It is apparently a revision of an earlier poem, "Imitation," published in 1827 in Tamerlane and Other Poems.
.......Unfulfilled hopes and dreams frustrate and discourage the speaker, he says in Stanza 1. Downcast, he asks, perhaps sarcastically, whether it really matters that life has robbed him of purpose, ambition, or love, for life itself is but a dream. To lose desiderata, therefore, is to lose nothing; what appeared real
and attainable was only an illusion. In Stanza 2, he says that whatever he graspswhatever thing will satisfy his longingslips immediately through his fingers, like grains of sand. Plaintively, he asks God whether it is possible to hold onto anything in lifewhether it is possible to fulfill a
dreamwhen life itself but a dream.
.......In the first stanza, the narrator addresses an unnamed person, beginning with "Take this kiss upon the brow!" This person could be the old Poethe Poe he leaves behind when he goes to Boston after his foster father, John Allan, withdraws him from the University of Virginia for running up a huge gambling debt. It could also be the teenage sweetheart taken away from him by her parents. In addition, it could be any other unnamed person, living or dead, with whom he had formed a relationship. Finally, it could simply be a poetic persona, a fictional creation representing shattered dreams.
.......The poem consists of nine couplets (pairs of rhyming lines) and two triplets (groups of three rhyming lines). The opening stanza, for example, begins with a triplet, then shifts to couplets, as follows:.
Take this kiss upon the brow!
.......Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless coupleJohn Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poes godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled
in schools there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school.
By Edgar Allan Poe
Published in 1827
Notes, Stanza 1
deem, days, dream: An example of alliteration. As in his other poems, Poe uses this figure of speech to help maintain rhythm and musicality. Other examples include hope has (Stanza 1, line 6),
seen or seem (Stanza 1, line 10), dream within a dream (Stanza 1, line 11), hold within my hand (Stanza 2, line 3), Grains of
golden sand (Stanza 2, line 4), While I weepwhile I weep (Stanza 2, line 7), and One from the pitiless wave,
(Stanza 2, line 11).
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,.......17
While I weepwhile 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?............24
Notes, Stanza 2
While I weepwhile I weep!: Anaphora, the repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of word groups occurring one after the other.
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