A Dream Within a Dream

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A Dream Within a Dream
By Edgar Allan Poe

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.

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,
While I weep — while 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?

“A Dream Within a Dream” is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1849. The poem is 24 lines, divided into two stanzas. The poem questions the way one can distinguish between reality and fantasy, asking, “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”

The poem dramatizes a confusion in watching the important things in life slip away. Realizing he cannot hold on to even one grain of sand leads to his final question that all things are a dream. The poem references “golden sand,” an image derived from the 1848 finding of gold in California.

In 1827, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army under the name “Edgar A. Perry.” He did well as a soldier, rising to the rank of sergeant major. He also continued to write. A book of his poetry was published anonymously (the author being listed only as “A Bostonian”). In April 1829, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A few months later, he published his second book of poetry, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems.

Poe soon realized that West Point wasn’t for him. He decided to get himself kicked out of school, which he successfully accomplished by refusing to attend chapel or classes. Poe tried hard to get kicked out of West Point, and in 1831, he succeeded. Rumor is that the final straw came when he reported for drill wearing belts for his cartridges, a smile and nothing else. While officially, he was court martialed on “Charge 1 . . . Gross neglect of Duty” and “Charge 2 . . . Disobedience of Orders.” He was court-martialed and dismissed. “The army does not suit a poor man — so I left W. Point abruptly,” he later wrote, “and threw myself upon literature as a resource. I became first known to the literary world thus.” Poe published several anonymous short stories plus another book of poems. Almost immediately after he left West Point, his brother Henry died of tuberculosis.

Poe began (and finished) his career as a starving writer. Though John Allan had remarried a wealthy woman, he refused to support his foster son, who was constantly asking for money. “It has now been more than two years since you have assisted me, and more than three since you have spoken to me,” Poe wrote in his final letter to his foster father in 1833. “If you will only consider in what a situation I am placed you will surely pity me — without friends, without any means, consequently of obtaining employment, I am perishing — absolutely perishing for want of aid. . . . For God’s sake pity me, and save me from destruction.” John Allan did not respond. And when he died on 27 March 1834, Allan omitted his adopted son from his will entirely.

I used Edgar Allan Poe today, because yesterday and today, I spent touring West Point as my job and to my knowledge, Poe was the most famous poet to attend West Point.

West Point Graduation

Cadets march to graduation ceremonies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Saturday, May 31, 2008. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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