Study Guide

Dream Song 14

Dream Song 14 Summary

"Dream Song 14" covers quite a bit of ground in just three short stanzas, friends. Things start off clearly enough, but by the end, you might find yourself wondering, "What in the world (er, Dreamland) just happened here?" Kind of like the way you feel waking up from sleep with your alarm blaring and your eyes all crusty with dreamdust.

To make a relatively short story even shorter, this one is about being bored and disillusioned with life. In the first stanza, the speaker confesses, rather directly, that he's bored. He knows it's not a good thing to be bored with life, but he just can't seem to help himself. That's how he feels. He's got a serious case of the Mondays, you know?

The second stanza catalogs some of the things that bore our speaker. It's a pretty eclectic list: people, literature, art, and gin are all included. We're with him on the people being total yawnfests. We'd much rather watch a cat play the keyboard. See? You might agree with the speaker, Henry, on a lot of his examples.

But in the third and final stanza, you'll probably find yourself scratching your head, wondering where it all went so weird. Things get super surreal, super fast. And then the whole thing ends with a vanishing dog. Yup, you read that right. If you've gotta read a poem about boredom, at least this one is anything but boring.

  • 1-3

    Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

    • Right away, the speaker declares that life is a bore. Not really the kinda guy you'd like to do dinner with; he seems like a real downer. But we do get the feeling that the speaker is letting us in on something special, confiding in us. We, as readers, feel included. Why? 
    • Well, dude does use the word, "friends," which gives us the warm and fuzzies. This direct address to the reader draws us into the poem, making us feel like the speaker is talking to us. It makes us feel like part of the "in" group. 
    • As you can see, this first line includes two complete sentences. The first sentence makes a big declaration: "Life is boring." But the second changes the tone a little; it tells us that we should keep this declaration to ourselves. Interesting. Okay, let's keep sharing all of the secrets in our super secret reader-writer Game Day huddle, Mr. Berryman. Tell us more, tell us more…!

    Lines 2-3

    After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
    we ourselves flash and yearn,

    • Having already admitted that he shouldn't say life is boring, the speaker goes on to give some examples of the excitement life has to offer.
    • The speaker looks toward the natural world for examples of the thrills he knows are there, but can't seem to get himself stoked about. First there's lightning. Nothing says excitement like a billion volts of electricity flying through the sky, right? The movement of the sea, all that sloshing and crashing, that can be pretty exciting too. Even Georgy Clooney thinks so. The speaker describes the sea as yearning, like the sea's movement is reaching out for something it can't possess: the land? A boat? Swimmers? It's tough to say.
    • Here, Berryman is using personification to describe the movement of the ocean. He gives the sea human qualities; in this case, he assigns the sea the ability to yearn. This personification allows us to connect a little more directly with the sea and perhaps consider yearnings of our own. Do you want for the cute guy or girl in your fifth period math class? World domination? Whatever it is, we're guessing you're wanting for something.
    • Once we read line 3, we can see how the sea's personification in line 2 was foreshadowing the parallel Berryman is drawing between the sea and us human folk. In line 3, he draws a direct connection between the natural world's awesomeness and the exhilaration of human life. We have the same potential to "flash and yearn" as the sky and the sea. Betchya never thought of that before, huh?
    • Check out the end words—"yearn" much? Berryman wants to make sure this yearning comes through loud and clear, so he repeats it at the end of each line. But by repeating this word on consecutive lines, he also makes yearning seem kind of. Well. Boring. Hm…
    • If everything in life—from us common people to great, potentially cataclysmic forces like the ocean—can both flash and yearn, is there anything out there that's sacred or special? Guess not. Because it's literally everywhere, all the flashing and yearning starts to seem mundane.
      Through repeated exposure, the speaker becomes desensitized to these dazzling bits of living, you know? Kinda like when you see the fifteenth fight erupt in one half-hour episode of Bad Girls Club. Enough already, right? (Yes, we watched one episode. Accidentally. We swear, we thought it was PBS.)
  • 4-10

    Lines 4-8

    and moreover my mother told me as a boy
    (repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
    means you have no

    Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
    inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

    • Okay, we have to admit that these lines gave us some serious flashbacks to our childhoods. Whenever we were like, "Mom and Dad, we're bored," our parents would say, "Go play outside or read a book or something! What, are you lacking in imagination?" And that's basically what's going on in the first few lines here. The speaker's own mom has (repeatedly) lectured him that saying you're bored is a sign of weak character—it means you lack "Inner Resources."
    • But if we look closely at line 2, we see that the speaker's mom doesn't say you should never be bored. She just says you should never confess to being bored. That's a totally different thing, right? In fact, to say, "Don't confess you're bored!" implies that you're already bored. Maybe the mom knows more about this boredom stuff than she lets on? She seems to be echoing what the speaker says in the first line, "life is boring"; and like the speaker went on to tell us in line 2, she thinks it's better not to talk about it. If there were a Bored People Club, the first rule would be: you do not talk about being bored.
    • In line 8, the speaker resigns to accepting his weakness. He admits that he must be lacking those inner resources his mom used to go on about because the fact remains, he's bored and he's going to talk about it. And not just 6th period Geometry bored. This guy is "heavy" bored. Shmoop likes this description of bored as "heavy." It kind of fits the feeling don't you think? That droopy, sluggish, stay-in-bed feeling certainly isn't light.
    • And remember those repeated end words ("yearn") in the first stanza? Well, John's up to his old tricks again, but this time he's putting us to sleep with the repeated initial words in lines 7 and 8: "inner resources." The longer this poem goes on, the more we can really empathize with the speaker. We can almost hear him say, "If I have to listen to my mom talk about Inner Resources one more time I'm gonna…" To which we reply, "We feel your pain, pal."
    • These lines also give us a taste of Berryman's humor. It's kind of funny when our speaker concludes that he has no inner resources. It's like we reponded to our mothers' telling us to go play outside by saying, "Indubitably, mother. I will do that post haste. You are quite correct in that, if I declare I am bored, I have no imagination." Okay, it's not shoot-milk-out-your-nose funny, but it makes us smile a little. That's what Berryman's humor is often like: subtle, and a little dark.

    Lines 9-10

    Peoples bore me,
    literature bores me, especially great literature,

    • These lines begin to detail what bores our speaker. The first item on our speaker's list of bores is "peoples." This is a good time to get out your official Shmoop-issue Literary Microscope (if you didn't get one, you can use ours). Let's consider what the addition of one little "s" does to the word "people" and how it changes this first item on the list.
    • If Shmoop said, "People bore us,"—which we never would because we are by nature people persons—what would that statement mean to you? 
    • You'd probably think that we can't find anyone around this here office (or even, this here world) that we think is interesting. Because everyone we meet bores us on some level. This is, no doubt, a pretty broad statement and would indicate a pretty empty, unfulfilled existence. But wait, Berryman found a way to make it even worse.
    • The addition of the "s," transforming "people" into "peoples," changes the whole enchilada. Now, we don't think of a bunch of boring individuals. Instead, we think about entire groups of people: like, whole nations with names like Yawnland and Your Least Favorite Teachertown. If Berryman had stuck with the generic noun "people," we might feel like there was a chance that someone, somewhere, could come along and work the speaker up into a tizzy. But since he's basically writing off all bipeds with those human brain things in one fell swoop, we feel a little sorry for the fella.
    • Next up on the list of bores: "literature." As you might imagine, this one really irks Shmoop. How could literature be boring? We know, you're on the speaker's side on this one. But we are still going to try to change your mind. 
    • Once again, the speaker declares his boredom of "literature" in the broadest possible terms. Literature includes everything from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to The Song of Songs. It's the whole ball of word-wax. (That was gross and unnecessary, sorry. Got bored of ourselves for a second.) 
    • The speaker does get a little more specific at the end of line 10. He singles out "great literature" as especially boring. Why would anyone do such a thing?!
    • Well, by specifying that great literature is especially boring to the speaker, Berryman makes sure we can't mistake the speaker for someone that just hasn't read the good stuff yet. We can't imagine that, perhaps, the speaker just doesn't know what's out there in the world of literature. The speaker has been there, done that, and would like for you to talk to the hand. Whatever.
    • Anywho, take a look at the initial and end words in line 10. You guessed it: "literature" and "literature" again. More repetition is at work here. And the sound of these words really isn't doing anything special for us. This repeated pattern of repetition (haha, we're funny) just makes us feel like we're being forced to read the same thing over and over again. If all great literature were written using the same few words, we might feel the same way the speaker does about all this great books business: bo-ring! We might even take a hint from this dude's cavalier exit from class.
  • 11-18

    Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
    as bad as achilles,
    who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

    • Hold up y'all. Where did this Henry guy come from? If you really want to unlock all the mysteries behind Henry, check out the Speaker section. For now, you need to know this: he bores the speaker. It turns out to be a little more complex than that, but we'll save it for later. You're welcome.
    • There are some specific things about Henry that the speaker finds boring. Henry's difficulties and complaints bore the speaker. Berryman uses a simile here to quantify Henry's "plights & gripes." Henry is "as bad as achilles" when it comes to his complaining. (Ouch, that darn heel! Um. For more on what Achilles had to gripe about, check out our awesome mythology section).
    • You might have noticed that "achilles" is missing his capital "A." You thought you caught Shmoop in a typo, right? Not this time. Like all of e.e. cummings' work, Berryman intentionally didn't use a capital letter here, for this demigod's name. Why? Certainly, this could be taken as a sign of disrespect. Imagine writing to a nun about how "jesus christ died for our sins." Remember, this speaker is bored by everything. He doesn't even find one of the greatest warriors in Greek mythology interesting enough to give him the same credit as any other Proper Noun.
    • In line 13, the speaker tells us just what it is about Achilles that he finds boring. Turns out, Achilles was a people person and an art lover. People and art: two things we already know our speaker hates (see lines 9 and 10). People and art: two things you already know we love. But still, we're guessing the speaker and Achilles won't be hanging out anytime soon.
    • Our speaker is starting to sound a little like a broken record, don't you think? Here he goes, repeating himself again. He told us in lines 9 and 10 that people and art bore him. Then he tells us again at the end of line 13. Hey speaker, take it from us: maybe you're the boring one.

    Line 14

    And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag

    • Line 14 kind of recalls the sky and sea from the poem's first stanza. The speaker once again turns his (bored, dull) attention to the landscape. This time, it's the "tranquil hills." And boy, do they look like "a drag."
    • Even booze is a real snooze for the speaker. Maybe there's just no hope for this guy. Maybe he wants to be bored. He's not even trying! (Unlike Berryman, who seemed to lean on the old sauce a little too much. Poor guy.) 
    • Okay, it's time to address those ampersands and parentheses that have been floating around. We think they give the poem an air of informality. It's as if whatever the speaker is saying is totally unrehearsed. And, like, maybe this poem hasn't even been edited. 
    • These punctuation marks also give the poem a sense of immediacy and urgency; they're both expressive and kind of shorthand-y. So they make us feel like Berryman was trying to get the words down on the page the moment they popped into his head, like he was scribbling notes in a dream journal right after waking up.

    Lines 15-18

    and somehow a dog
    has taken itself & its tail considerably away
    into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
    behind: me, wag.

    • And now for something completely different. This poem takes a totally surreal turn in the last 4 lines. But hang in there. We're gonna help you sort this out. Yes, even the part about the dog.
    • Let's start with Fido. A dog, in general, is a very familiar, very common housepet. Dogs often represent loyalty and companionship; you know, man's best friend and all that. (Lassie, no!) 
    • This particular dog has left the scene. Presumably, he's run off some considerable distance, out of sight, into the "mountains" (sure, why not!), the "sea" (hm, maybe?), or the "sky" (what?). 
    • This great disappearing act might not make much sense, but there is something familiar here. The "mountains" (or "hills") are from line 14, and the "sea" and "sky" showed up way back in line 2. Earth, sea, and sky. The gang's all here.
    • But this is the trippy, not very literal part of the poem, right? So let's think of this dog as maybe representing something else. It could be a symbol of friendship, companionship, art, and culture. Like the mysterious vanishing dog, these elements have ceased to really be present in the speaker's life. They've vanished into the hills or the sea or the sky, because he's so darn bored of it all. So the speaker is left all sad and alone in his boring, boring boredom.
    • But shouldn't being on his own, without the plethora of crap that makes him bored, make our speaker happy? You don't just sit around pining to be back at four o'clock dinner with your Canasta-playing Great-Granddad, do you?
    • Well, here's the catch. Even though the dog is now gone, the motion of the dog, its very liveliness—the "wag"—is still there. So the dog's spirit or essence or whatever you wanna call it has gotten lodged in the speaker's memory. Thus, the wag represents the speaker's growing loneliness; he knows he's missing out on something by being so bored by people, literature, and everything. 
    • The speaker knows all this great stuff has a lot of bright, shiny life in it. He just can't find the chutzpah to enjoy what's going on around him. And since he knows he's not supposed to talk about his boredom, either, he feels extra isolated in it. This speaker is starting to sound a bit like someone who's suffering from a deep depression, don't you think? Not that Mr. Berryman would know anything about that, eh? 
    • Also, it's a little bit funny to end this poem with the word, wag. The last line only has three words, and the final two, "me, wag," are separated from the first word by a colon. So the "me" and the "wag" are stuck together. 
    • This juxtaposition between the "me"and the "wag" really drives home the point that the speaker is just as insignificant as all the boring stuff he trashes throughout the poem. This speaker, including all of his actions and thoughts and dreams and desires, is just simple and involuntary, like the wag of a dog's tail. This final line shows us a little more of that Berryman humor—that kind of humor where you're not quite sure if you're amused or just plain confused. 
    • By the end of this poem, we see that Henry isn't actually bored with the world, he's bored by his reaction to it. The crux is that Henry is bored of himself. Which we think is a pretty rough fate indeed.