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A Dream Within a Dream
A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Date of Publication
Summary
Theme
Whom Is Narrator Addressing?
Rhyme Scheme
Author Information
Text With Notes
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Notes and Annotation by Michael J. Cummings..© 2006
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Type of Work and Date of Publication

......."A Dream Within a Dream" is a two-stanza lyric poem that was published in 1827, when Poe was still a teenager. 

Summary, Theme, and Commentary

.......Unfulfilled hopes and dreams frustrate and discourage the narrator, he says in Stanza 1. Downcast, he asks, perhaps sarcastically, whether it really matters that life has robbed him of purpose, ambition, or love, for life itself is but a dream. To lose desiderata, therefore, is to lose nothing; what appeared real and attainable was only an illusion. In Stanza 2, he says that whatever he graspswhatever thing will satisfy his longingslips immediately through his fingers, like grains of sand. Plaintively, he asks God whether it is possible to hold onto anything in lifewhether it is possible to fulfill a dreamwhen life itself but a dream.
.......Whether the direction of Poe’s life at the time that he completed the poem, 1827, shaped the feelings expressed by the narrator is matter of speculation. Certainly, he had reason to experience frustration, disappointment, and confusion. On the one hand, the parents of his fiancéeSarah Elmira Royster, to whom he had been secretly engagedhad recently sent her away after finding out about the engagement. She eventually married an eligible young man, Alexander Barrett Shelton. On the other hand, Poe had run up a gambling debt of $2,500an enormous sum in the early 19th Centurywhile attending the University of Virginia. His prodigality estranged him from his father, who withdrew Poe from school. 
.......These events could have triggered the kind of depression and disappointment he expresses in the poem. It is possible, too, though, that the feelings arose solely from his inner muse.
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Whom Is the Narrator Addressing?

.......If the first stanza, the narrator addresses an unnamed person, beginning with "Take this kiss upon the brow!" This person could be the old Poe–the Poe he leaves behind when he goes to Boston after his foster father, John Allan, withdraws him from the University of Virginia for running up a huge gambling debt. It could also be the teenage sweetheart taken away from him by her parents. In addition, it could be any other unnamed person, living or dead, with whom he had formed a relationship. Finally, it could simply be a poetic persona, a fictional creation representing shattered dreams. 

Rhyme Scheme

.......The poem consists of nine couplets (pairs of rhyming lines) and two triplets (groups of three rhyming lines). The opening stanza, for example, begins with a triplet, then shifts to couplets, as follows:. 

Take this kiss upon the brow
And, in parting from you now
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream
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
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream

Author Information

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless couple–John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled in schools there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. After beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem “The Raven” in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. 

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A Dream Within a Dream
By Edgar Allan Poe
Published in 1827

1
Take this kiss upon the brow! 
And, in parting from you now, 
Thus much let me avow
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;......
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? 
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream............11

Notes, Stanza 1

deem, days, dream: An example of alliteration. As in his other poems, Poe uses this figure of speech to help maintain rhythm and musicality. Other examples include hope has (Stanza 1, line 6), seen or seem (Stanza 1, line 10), dream within a dream (Stanza 1, line 11), hold within my hand (Stanza 2, line 3), Grains of golden sand (Stanza 2, line 4), While I weepwhile I weep (Stanza 2, line 7),  and One from the pitiless wave, (Stanza 2, line 11).
hope . . . away: metaphor comparing hope to a bird.



2
I stand amid the roar 
Of a surf-tormented shore, 
And I hold within my hand 
Grains of the golden sand
How few! yet how they creep 
Through my fingers to the deep,.......17 
While I weepwhile I weep
O God! can I not grasp 
Them with a tighter clasp? 
O God! can I not save 
One from the pitiless wave
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?............24

Notes, Stanza 2

While I weepwhile I weep!: Anaphora, the repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of word groups occurring one after the other.
O God! can I not (lines 19, 21): Anaphora, the repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of word groups occurring one after the other.
how they creep: metaphor comparing grains of sand to a living creature.
pitiless wave: metaphor/personification comparing the wave to a cruel or indifferent person.

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