Zireaux is also this week’s editor of the Tuesday Poem blog, on which he discusses the poetry of “Kath and Kim” (Jane Turner and Gina Riley).
Edgar Allan Poe
Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awak’ning, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow.
‘Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
But should it be — that dream eternally
Continuing — as dreams have been to me
In my young boyhood — should it thus be giv’n
‘Twere folly still to hope for higher Heav’n.
For I have revell’d when the sun was bright
In the summer sky, in dreams of living light.
And loveliness, — have left my very heart
In climes of my imaginings apart
From mine own home, with beings that have been
Of mine own thought — what more could I have seen?
‘Twas once — and only once — and the wild hour
From my remembrance shall not pass — some pow’r
Or spell had bound me — ‘twas the chilly wind
Came o’er me in the night, and left behind
Its image on my spirit — or the moon
Shone on my slumbers in her lofty noon
Too coldly — or the stars — howe’er it was
That dream was as that night-wind — let it pass.
I have been happy, tho’ in a dream.
I have been happy — and I love the theme:
Dreams! in their vivid colouring of life
As in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife
Of semblance with reality which brings
To the delirious eye, more lovely things
Of Paradise and Love — and all our own!
Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known.
“Is it true what Robert Graves once said / that every poet over thirty’s dead?”
Any work by Poe deserves a careful handling (snap and snap of the blue nitrile gloves), but especially this poem, a piece of juvenilia, composed with all the flexible fancies and daring dismounts of a lithe and limber brain.
Edgar was 18 when he wrote it.
Many more times he’d attempt to capture this unique species of dream, in essays, poetry, short stories: Not sleeping dreams, not Freudian dreams, or Proustian time-traveling remembrances; not hallucinations of hope, or preacher visions sung from the Capitol’s Mall; or Disney dreams, or the fantasies of aspiring pop-stars; not pipe-dreams, prophecies, visions, trances, mirages, hypnotic dreams, psychedelic dreams, laudenum-induced comas, the Dreamtimes of prehistory, visitations from Morpheus or Sibyl, glossolalia, or a hello from a hologrammic TuPoe with a trillion views on YouTube (“Yo whassup Tuesday Poets!”).
Fancies, daydreams, reveries — Poe would settle, at last, on “fancies,” but even that, he insists, was just a word plucked at random to capture a “shadow of a shadow.” (“A dream itself is but a shadow,” says Hamlet).
“Dreams” is often dismissed as an immature work, and it’s true, the poem is no “Raven”, no “Ulalume” (see my comments on “Ulalume”), no “Bells” or “Annabel Lee.” But when we gently cut through the poem’s husk (Eternity, Paradise, Love, Hope, High Heaven), peel back the fleshy endosperm (all that “living light” and “loveliness”), we not only find the germ of poetic genius, but one of the most important discoveries ever made by an English language poet.
I don’t just mean the fine observation — see it there, in lines 4 through 8 — that for a person of passion, even the saddest dreams are more pleasurable than waking life. Enchanting, yes, but Coleridge had distilled the same elixir 40 years earlier (notice, by the way, the Coleridgian cast of moonlight that shimmers across lines 23-24).
Poe’s vision is much more radical than that. As his dreamer marvels in line 18, the most critical element of such dreams, it turns out, is that they are “of mine own thought.” They are “all our own!”The dreamer, then, isn’t possessed. The dreamer possesses. The Raven on which the dreamer flies, flapping its black wings of Time (same dark wings that swoop through H.G. Wells‘s phantasm), belongs to its rider. A pilot, then, is this dreamer, with compass to consult, instruments of accuracy — airspeed, altitude, pitch — and there’s Saint-Exupery buzzing over the Sahara in his Brueget biplane (oneiric angels splattering against his windscreen).
Freedom through form, fancy as precision, music as mathematical formula, mutation through logic, a brilliantly bridled madness — this is Poe. And this was young Edger, his “chaos of passions” expressed in rhyme, carefully constructed meter (note the mimicking meter of lines one and four in “Dreams”), his “wild hour,” his being “bound” in a spell, a vivid colouring in a moonlit slumber for a delirious eye.
This, to me (slap and slap, gloves removed, flourished, tossed in bin), is the miracle of all great poetry. Not the passion alone, but the structure, the precision, the dreamy chaos held in absolute control.
Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group.