Readers beware! We think this whole poem sounds like a hypnotist's spell. The rhythm of the lines – coming in short little pulses – rocks you back and forth. In a way, the rhyming makes "Dream-Land" seem like a lullaby, but the words sound so dark and mysterious that you can't imagine them being said in a loving way. They come out in a hissing whisper. Just try saying these lines out loud: "Their still waters – still and chilly/ With the snows of the lolling lily" (20). Do you hear that repetitive, slightly creepy patter? The soothing, scary rhythm starts to really pop out. "Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever" (26) and then…wham, you're hypnotized.
The title is key in this poem. It sets our expectations for the whole thing, letting us know that this poem is going to describe, or at least relate to, a place called Dream-Land. What's more, Poe, never uses the word "dream" again in this poem. In fact, he never talks about dreams at all. So, if you didn't have that title, you might not think about dreams at all. The landscape and the events in the poem might seem weird, but you might not connect them with Dream-Land.
At the same time, Poe definitely puts his own spin on the idea. The word "Dream-Land" sounds kind of cozy and pleasant doesn't it? Just slipping off to Dream-Land… Well, because it's Poe, things aren't quite so warm and fuzzy. The speaker seems to like it OK, but this Dream-Land is definitely not a place where we'd like to visit for very long.
Have you ever been on one of those amusement park haunted-house rides where you get pulled along in a little car and things jump out at you? OK, imagine the coolest possible version of that, and we think you've got a pretty good idea of the setting of "Dream-Land."
We know it sounds a little weird, but think about it for a second. In this poem you are getting pulled along in the dark, and you don't really ever know where you came from, where you are, or where you are going. Sometimes something pops up, like a lake or a mountain, but you don't really have time to look at it, because the poem keeps pulling you along, just like that little car. Sometimes a ghost or a ghoul jumps out to give you a scare, but it's all in good fun. You never really feel terrified; you just enjoy the spine-tingling thrill of being a little scared. Most of all, you pay money to go on those rides because they take you on a tour of another place, and get you out of your normal life for a minute. We think that's the real fun in this poem, the way it takes you on an amazing ride through Poe's Dream-Land in just 56 lines.
Doesn't this guy sound a lot like your Cure-listening, black-wearing, super-dramatic friend? You know, the one who can make a bad mood seem like the coolest thing in the world? Who reads old poetry and quotes it aloud to let you know how deeply he feels things?
Bottom line: this speaker's approach is all about attitude, about knowing how to work a mood. Every line – make that every word – is designed to make you feel how depressed he is, to make you soak in his angst and his despair. The thing is, he somehow manages to make it really fun. He turns being sad into a lifestyle. For our speaker, being filled with agony isn't just a part of who he is, it's everything. He commits to it so completely that you can't help but get wrapped up in it. He makes every moment seem so dramatic that a happy, quiet life starts to seem kind of boring.
Poe definitely throws in some tough words here, and it's pretty hard to tell what he's describing at some points. Still, we think that once you've got a general sense of what's going on, this should be a smooth and easy climb.
In their heart of hearts, all of Poe's great poems are about the pain of losing someone. In a way, though, they are also about the intensity of grief, and how that feeling can almost become beautiful. We know it's weird, but bear with us a little. In this poem, and in others by Poe (think the "The Raven," "Annabel Lee," and "Ulalume"), the pain of losing loved ones is mixed with a beautiful, musical style. Poe picks rich words and exciting images, and mixes them together with his sense of sadness. It bums you out a little, but it can also fill you with a soaring, weirdly joyous feeling. You feel how upset the speaker is, but you also can't help but get caught up in the beauty of what he's describing. We think this mix of beauty and sadness is definitely Edgar Allan Poe's calling card.
Let's deal with the rhyme scheme first, because it's pretty simple (well, mostly…). The basic idea here is that the lines of this poem make little rhymed pairs. The first line rhymes with the second one, the third one rhymes with the fourth, and so on. Every two lines, the rhyming sound at the end of the line changes. English teachers call this a rhyming couplet, and it's a really old technique. For example, the last two lines of Shakespeare's sonnets always rhyme like this. Here, we'll show you how it works, using letters to mark the rhymes:
By a route obscure and lonely, A
Haunted by ill angels only, A
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT, B
On a black throne reigns upright, B
I have reached these lands butnewly, C
From an ultimate dim Thule [pronounced thoo-lee]— C
See that? Six lines, three pairs of rhymes: lonely/only, night/upright, newly/Thule. The whole poem is set up like that. Well, almost the whole poem. (You knew there was a catch here, didn't you?) Part of the fun of setting up a pattern like this is that then you get to play with it. Check out the first lines in the second stanza:
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
"Floods" and "woods" look like they would rhyme, but they sure don't when you say them out loud. The fancy term for that is a near rhyme, because it gets close, but doesn't quite rhyme. We think it adds to the slightly weird, disorienting effect that Poe is aiming for in this poem.
The meter of the poem switches around a little bit, but, for the most part, it follows a pattern called trochaic tetrameter (don't worry, we'll break it down for you). What tetrameter means is that there are four pairs ("tetra" = 4) of syllables in every line. Here's an example in which we've divided up the pairs of syllables:
By a | route ob|scure and | lonely,
If you count it up, that means eight syllables per line. Sometimes there's one or two more or less, since Poe like to be tricky like that, but you see the basic idea, right? Trochaic means that, in each of those pairs of syllables, the emphasis falls on the first syllable. We'll show you how that works by putting the stressed syllables in bold and italics:
By a | route ob|scure and | lonely,
Hear the rhythm there? DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da DUM-da. Voila, trochaic tetrameter. That's all there is to it. Like we said, you can find tons of spots where Poe breaks this pattern, but we think it really helps to have a sense of the basic structure.
Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
There are a lot of creepy critters in this poem, but these are the first ones we meet. Poe doesn't tell us exactly who they are, or if they are the same or different from the "Ghouls" and "sheeted memories" we meet later. For now, they help set the mood. We don't know where we are, or where we are going, but if we are surrounded by ill angels, it's probably bad news. Plus, putting a supernatural image in the second line lets us know that we're not in the everyday world.
This is another important image that's a little scary and a little mysterious too. Even after we've figured out that an Eidolon is a phantom (don't worry, we had to look it up too), that still doesn't tell us much about what it would look like. Still, that's not really the point, is it? Poe is trying to establish a feeling here, and this dark spirit, sitting on his throne, is the perfect ruler for this weird world.
We're not talking about a few drops here. We're talking about a huge, raging flood of tears. That's why this image is so important. It makes the speaker's sadness into a real, physical thing. The tears in this poem are just as dramatic and major as the speaker's feeling. His grief is huge, and so the world is covered in tears. We're way beyond Kleenex.
The Mountains in this poem aren't pretty little hills that sit there and look nice. They are huge, raging peaks that move and crumble and crash all over the place. The whole landscape of Dream-Land is meant to be intense and supernatural. Nothing here is like it is in normal life.
The lakes are another big feature of the natural world in Dream-Land, and Poe actually spends a lot of time on them. We get a real feeling for how sad and cold and lonely they are. Poe is building a mood here, and it seems like the speaker's feelings are always mirrored in the things he sees. There's also something creepy about lakes, isn't there? Just a shiny surface, and no way to know what's underneath. We're imagining a lake kind of like the one in Friday the 13th.
Another set of creepy bad guys who live in Dream-Land. A ghoul can specifically refer to an evil spirit that eats dead bodies, although we also use it to mean any kind of awful, gross monster. These particular Ghouls just pop up for a moment, but they make a big impact. They come out of nowhere, and really make us feel the darkness and despair of the icky marsh where they live.
In contrast to the Ghouls, these spirits might seem creepy at first, but they turn out to be exactly what the speaker is looking for. They are the ghosts of people who have died, and their presence is soothing for him. When these guys show up, things start to change, and a world that seemed evil and disgusting suddenly doesn't seem so bad.
This is an imaginary paradise, a place of wealth and happiness and peace. In the old legends, it was a city made entirely of gold. In this case, though, it's not gold that our speaker is looking for. He wants to be reunited with his loved ones, to be free of his grief. The image of a sparkling city may be meant to make us think of heaven (line 38) where the departed have apparently gone.
No sex here. Not a bit. Still, if this we're a movie, we probably wouldn't take the kids.