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An Evening With Poe
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Comedy of Terrors
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Imitation
A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary and Background
Point of View
Text of the Poem
Meter
Rhyme Scheme
Theme
Figures of Speech
Meaning of the Title
Biography of Poe
Study Questions
Writing Topics
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
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Type of Work and Date of Publication

......."Imitation" is a twenty-line lyric poem that was first published in 1827 in Tamerlane and Other Poems. Poe thoroughly revised "Imitation" and published it as "A Dream Within a Dream" in 1847.

Summary and Background

.......When he was young, the speaker dreamed of beings that he never actually saw. These were visions of the spirit, not visions of the eyes. Now that he is no longer young, he hopes that no other person on earth inherits his spirit visions.  For the beings in these visions were people that he might have becomebut did notpeople who would have justified the pride he felt in himself (line 2).
.......But the "bright hope" that he would become these people (line 15) never came to fruition. This hope died when his youth died, and the rest of his worldly life has passed. Now, disappointed and bitter, he says he no longer cares about those youthful hopes and dreams that he once cherished. 
.......Whether the direction of Poe’s life at the time that he completed the poem shaped the feelings expressed by the speaker is matter of speculation. Certainly, he had reason to experience frustration, disappointment, and confusion. On the one hand, the parents of his fiancéeSarah Elmira Royster, to whom he had been secretly engagedhad recently sent her away after finding out about the engagement. She eventually married an eligible young man, Alexander Barrett Shelton. Thus, Poe's dream of becoming her husband was thwarted. 
.......Also, Poe had run up a gambling debt of $2,500an enormous sum in the early nineteenth Centurywhile attending the University of Virginia. His prodigality estranged him from his father, who withdrew Poe from school. Thus, if he had a dream of becoming a college graduate, this too was never fulfilled.
.......These events could have triggered the kind of depression and disappointment he expresses in the poem. It is possible, too, though, that the feelings arose solely from his inner muse.

Point of View

.......The speaker reveals his thoughts in first-person point of view from the perspective of an older man looking back on his youthful dreams.

Text of the Poem

A dark unfathomed tide
Of interminable pride
A mystery, and a dream,
Should my early life seem;
I say that dream was fraught.................5
With a wild and waking thought
Of beings that have been,
Which my spirit hath not seen,
Had I let them pass me by,
With a dreaming eye!..........................10
Let none of earth inherit
That vision of my spirit;
Those thoughts I would control,
As a spell upon his1 soul:
For that bright hope at last...................15
And that light time have past,2
And my worldly rest hath gone
With a sigh as it passed on:
I care not though it perish
With a thought I then did cherish...........20

his: This possessive pronoun refers to none (line 11), which is singular.
past: Passed.

Meter

.......The line length varies from five to eight syllables. Consequently, the meter varies. Six of the lines are in iambic trimiter (six syllables, or three iambic feet), as demonstrated by the following line:

......1................2...............3
A DARK..|..un FATH..|..omed TIDE


Line 10 is in dimeter, combining an anapest with an iamb (five syllabes, two feet):

..........1...................2
......Anapest.............Iamb
With a DREAM..|..ing EYE.


Line 20 is in tetrameter, combining an anapest, two iambs, and an incomplete iamb (catalexis):

.............1.....................2................3................4
.........Anapest...............Iamb............Iamb.........Catalexis
With a THOUGHT...|...I THEN...|...did CHER...|...ish
Rhyme Scheme

.......The poem consists of ten couplets (pairs of rhyming lines). The first four lines demonstrate the pattern.

A dark unfathomed tide
Of interminable pride
A mystery, and a dream,
Should my early life seem
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Theme

.......The theme of the poem is the speaker's disappointment and bitterness at failing to fulfill his youthful dreams.

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.

Alliteration

With a wild and waking thought (line 6)
Of beings that have been (line 7)
As a spell upon his soul (line 14)

For that bright hope at last
And that light time have past,
And my worldly rest hath gone (lines 15-17)

Anaphora
And that light time have past,
And my worldly rest hath gone (lines 16-17)
Metaphor
A dark unfathomed tide
Of interminable pride (lines 1-2)
Comparison of an abstract quality, pride, to deep ocean water (unfathomed tide)
Simile
Those thoughts I would control,
As a spell upon his soul (lines 13-14)
Comparison of the way the speaker would control thoughts to a spell


Meaning of the Title

.......Poe was said to have received inspiration for his poem from "The Dream," an 1816 poem by George Gordon Lord Byron (1788-1824). After writing his poem, Poe entitled it "Imitation" to indicate that he was imitating Byron's work. The theme of Byron's poem is similar to Poe's. Lines 3 and 4 of Byron's poem present this observation:

Sleep hath its own world, 
And a wide realm of wild reality
Lines 5 and 6 of Poe's poem present a similar observation:
I say that dream was fraught
With a wild and waking thought
Author Information

.......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 couple–John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s 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. 
.......After beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem “The Raven” in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. 

Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • Write a short poem that imitates the end rhyme in "Imitation." The topic is open.
  • Write an essay centering on events in Poe's youth and young adulthood that affected him later for better or worse, or both.
  • What is the difference between a lyric poem and a narrative poem?

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