A Dream Within a Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Take this kiss upon the brow!
- The speaker begins the poem by telling somebody to take a kiss upon the brow. Gee, aren't we demanding?
- This is Poe, who was all about the romance, so we'll go ahead and guess this is a dude offering a girl a kiss. It sounds like the speaker is saying goodbye to this girl, but we don't know where is going, or why he is leaving yet.
- Whatever the case, it's urgent. He's gotta go. That's what that exclamation point's all about.
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
- Well it turns out that our hunch was correct—the speaker is "parting," i.e. leaving, this person.
- And, "in parting," the speaker wishes to "avow" or express something to his special friend.
- What is it that he wants to tell her? Apparently, that she's not wrong when she says that his days have all been a dream.
- Hmm, that's strange. Either he really has been dreaming (in which case, we're in for a trippy poem), or she's talking about how their time together has been dreamlike in its awesomeness.
- Whatever the case, it's certainly puzzling. It sounds like the speaker is questioning whether or not everything that has happened to him is real, or whether it's just some fantasy.
- And whatever the case, it sounds like waking up from that dream is a bit of a bummer. Why else is he peaceing out on his main squeeze?
- Note too that there are some rhymes happening in here. Lines 1-3, and lines 4-5 rhyme with each other. We could chart the rhyme scheme like this: AAABB.
- If there's a rhyme scheme, it's always a safe bet to be on the lookout for meter, too. But in this poem, it's a bit tricky to suss out just what meter it's written in, so for now we'll just say that it's definitely iambic (hear that daDUM rhythm?). Head on over to "Form and Meter" for the real skinny.
- And, FYI, we still have no clue where the speaker is going. Is he about to wake up from a real dream? Is he waking up from his fantasy? Is he literally going somewhere?
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?
- Apparently the speaker isn't ready to hit the road just yet because he has a few more cryptic remarks for his lady friend.
- He ponders whether hope is any "less gone" if it flies away in a night, or in a day, in a vision, or not in a vision. That sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to us, so let's unpack it.
- First of all, the speaker is asking if it makes any difference when hope leaves. It's like asking, "Does it matter if my girlfriend dumps me in the day, or at night, if she's still gone in the end?"
- So the speaker is asking, and implying, that no matter when hope flies away (in the course of a night, or a day, etc.) it's still gone, and that's the pits.
- But notice, he doesn't just include night or day. He also says that if hope ditches him "in a vision, or in none," it doesn't really matter. So even if it all was a dream, the point is, his hope's gone no matter what.
- Now, as for what particular hope, if any, the speaker is talking about, that's not so clear. If we keep reading, maybe we can piece it all together.
- Still, if we had to guess we'd say he's talking about his hope that life isn't a dream. Realizing that everything you've experienced is all just some fantasy could be pretty painful.
- The speaker's departure from the woman seems to be a metaphor for this painful realization. He's leaving the woman, and thus also leaving behind a fantasy or dream.
- Form-wise, it looks like we're still working with rhyming couplets here, so keep an eye out for that pattern to continue for the rest of the poem.
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
- Earlier the speaker had told the woman that she was spot on when she said that his life was one big dream. Now he's out and out agreeing with her by saying the very same thing himself.
- Only it's not just his life he's going on about—this time it applies to all of us.
- And it's not just a dream, but a dream within a dream, like in that movie Inception.
- Dreams are pretty confusing in themselves, but dreams within dreams? That's definitely a head scratcher. If everything is a dream within a dream, then everything is super, duper, extra unreal, right?
- Let's think of it like this: there's reality, then there's dreams, then there's dreams within dreams. Regular dreams are one degree removed from reality, so dreams within dreams are two degrees removed from reality.
- The implications of this conundrum are profound. If everything is a dream within a dream, that means that if we could somehow get out of the "dream," then we would still be inside a dream. Pretty terrifying, if you ask Shmoop.
- It's a very strange way of saying that everything will always be dreamy or fantastical or imaginary. The speaker is claiming that there is no such thing as reality and that we are not who we actually are.
- So wait a minute, where does this fantasy come from? Do our minds produce it? Is it like the Matrix where some evil machines are producing this fake reality for us, and we're all a bunch of dupes?
- Or is this just some depressing and clever way to say that we can never experience the world around us without using the preconceptions, illusions, and fantasies of our own minds?
- We'll go with this last one, just to be safe, but any way you slice it, Mr. Poe has clearly outdone himself here. International. Man. Of. Mystery.
- And you thought Inception was confusing.