This poem may be free verse, but it's got all kinds of delights going on in the sonic department. Let's break it down:
Line 1: Alliteration alert! "Houses" and "haunted" both start with the same consonant sound.
Line 2: Internal rhyme, anyone? "White" and "night" were made for each other.
Line 3: Consonance. "None are green." Gee, thanks for all the N sounds, Wally.
Line 4: Near rhyme—it's close enough. "Green" kind of sounds like "rings." Okay, it's not perfect. But that's because it's a near rhyme, or slant rhyme.
Line 7: Near rhyme strikes again. "Strange" and "rings" sound a bit alike.
Line 15: Assonance—your new best friend. "Red" and "weather" have rhyming vowel sounds.
That's an awful lot of repeated sounds for such a tiny poem. What's the effect of all that? Well, for one thing, it helps tie the poem together—to push you through those short lines as a reader. In short, they help the poem feel like one thought, rather than a progression or a story. We come away from the poem with one impression left in our minds: imagination is better than… well, just about anything.
Disillusionment. The absence of illusions. That sounds like a good thing, right? We mean, if we don't have illusions, that means we're not seeing things that aren't there, which also means we're not totally insane. Awesome.
But disillusionment can have a not-so-nice meaning, too. It can mean that we've become disenchanted with life's wonder. That we can't think outside the box, believe in something more, and free up our imaginations. There's just the boring old nightgown and the boring old bed.
And that brings us to the "Ten O'Clock" portion of the title. If we're disillusioned at 10 o'clock, that means we're disillusioned right around bedtime—the time our dreams are supposed to take over. But if you're disillusioned at 10 o'clock, those dreams are gonna be, well, really boring. No flying, no baboons. Snoozerific.
It's that snoozerific quality that our speaker is lamenting. What a shame our nightgowns are so boring. What a shame we dream in black and white and not in periwinkle. In fact, you might say that even our speaker is disillusioned—with the lack of imagination these bedtime bozos are showing.
We can't really be sure where we are, but Shmoop likes to think we're in surburbia. Or Suburgatory as some like to call it. After all, the houses are haunted, and no one's having good dreams.
Yep, this is the land of the boring, the stock and standard. Pleasantville. Mayfield. Mayberry, even. Sure, this poem was written in 1915, before suburbs were really the thing, but the social and emotional climate is much the same.
This poem takes place in a world of conformity, where everyone wears the same night clothes and dreams the same old dreams. Only the sailor, who has gotten outside that comfort zone, and seen some of the world, has dreams worth remembering.
Speaker? What speaker? We don't know who this guy is. Is he one of those folks in a white nightgown? Is he an old salt, sleeping in his boots? Or is he someone completely different, someone detached from the action, someone looking down on it all?
We think the speaker is probably closest to that last option, but honestly, we don't know much about the guy (or gal, for that matter). All we can really guess about this guy comes from what he chooses to tell us about these white nightgowned sleepers.
Because he laments the fact that none of these nightgowns are green or "purple with green rings" (4) and so forth, we can guess that this is a guy who likes a little color in his life. He would never, for example, paint the walls of his bedroom beige. No sir.
And we know from the fact that he seems to enjoy the sailors' dreams—of tigers in red weather—that this guy loves a little excitement, too.
Of course this leaves us with just one question: how do we get that color and excitement in our lives? Well, our speaker has the answer: by using our imagination. It's really that simple. See, the sailor doesn't have to go out to catch tigers in red weather. The dude can do it in his mind, because his imagination is a lot healthier than all those folks sleeping in boring garb.
Once you know the meaning of "ceintures," then you've got total access to the poem. Just sit back and let your imagination take over. Don't worry about trying to make sense of what it means to dream of periwinkles or what red weather describes. Those images are supposed to be abstract and provocative, meaning they are there to get you thinking about weird stuff. So revel in the weird. Revel!
Stevens was known as a mental poet. No, not mental as in nutso, but mental as in he wrote poems about the mind—what it was, what it could do, what it could strive for. He was, in short, a poet of ideas. And ideas are nothing without imagination. Stevens believed that in imagining, we shape our own reality with our mind. Say, isn't that what this poem's all about?
This one's all about imagination, folks, so of course it's in free verse. What would a poem about creativity and freedom be if it were written in neat little metrical lines. Meter, for Stevens, just might be the poetic equivalent of white nightgowns. At least, in this poem.
Still, this poem is not without its formal charms. Stevens could play with sound like nobody's business, so head on over to our "Sound Check" section for more on his rocking sonics and rollicking rhymes.
There are five different colors mentioned in the fifteen lines that make up "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock." For Stevens, vibrant and bold colors represent the richness of an active imagination, while white is unimaginative and nap-inducing.
Wallace Stevens must have worn a lot of suits in his day. Don't get us wrong, but that must have been boring for such an imaginative man. But within the haunted house of "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock," he gets to play dress-up with his bodiless characters. He wants to add more and more colors and accessories to make his subjects fabulously fashionable. "Not enough!" The speaker then turns to shabby chic in describing what the sailor wears to bed. Apparently untraditional clothing leads to maddening dreams and fantasies. Even a dull nightgown could get in the way of imagination. The old sailor is asleep in his boots, so we can assume that he has the rest of his sailor get-up on. As a result of his clothing, the sailor dreams to the level that the speaker celebrates. Yar.
"Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" makes Stevens come off as a little judgey when it comes to who has imaginative dreams or who doesn't. True, the people in the houses "are not going / To dream of baboons and periwinkles," but this doesn't necessarily mean that the people won't dream of wallabies and calla lilies, right? Right. However, what is implied is that their dreams will be boring relative to the sailors. "Shame on them," says Stevens. Good dreams in the poem are connected to imagination, and when you lack it, your dreams are bound to be lackluster.
These are the least sexy nightgowns Shmoop has ever seen.