A dream within a dream

A dream within a dream

Many poets wrote or write about dreams. Poetry and dreaming is a good combination. The poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “A dream within a dream,” is a perfect example of this. This poem reflects the thoughts of Poe about a departure, even death.

A dream within a dream

About the poem

It’s not easy to analyse the work of Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849). His stories and poems contain so many metaphors. So much to write about. This goes the same for the poem “A dream within a dream.”


This seems to be all about a departure. The moment when you say goodbye to someone. How you say goodbye depends on who you’re saying goodbye to. In this poem, it’s a kiss on the eyebrow. Not a peck on the cheek or the lips. This makes you think that the relationship is not the same as two lovers. Love seems to be involved, because of the kiss. However, the location… On the other side: this could be a moment of emotions. The brow or eyebrow is located on the forehead. A kiss on the forehead is a suggestion that this leaving might be forever.

These days that the poet spent seem to be different from now. Hope is no longer an option to consider, so goodbye is a farewell. This kiss was is a farewell kiss. One last kiss on the forehead is something people do when a loved one dies.


A period of grief is often related to the colour black. Black is the colour of night. The poet describes that his days are now dark, just like the night. There seems to be no difference. All because of this goodbye/farewell.

It seems like a dream, all of this. But what will happen if the poet dreams when he is living a dream? All he is left with the wish to have hope, but he can’t. Does the golden sand suggest that there is a way out, but is that just a dream?

Another important metaphor for the assumption that this poem is about someone passing away: the shore where the poet stands. He can hear the waves crashing. This is often referred to as a roar of the sea (ocean).

Back to the (golden) sand, he holds in his hand. It stands for everything good in his life. He’s not able to hold on to this sand. Thus making it almost impossible to see the difference between dreaming and being awake. This must be a nightmare! In the middle of this nightmare, the poet seems to question the possibility (last two sentences) if it’s possible to dream within a dream. In other words: to experience a nightmare and to dream about something as beautiful as love.


It’s almost impossible not to think about Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe (1822 – 1847), as the poem “A dream within a dream” was published in 1849. Virginia wasn’t just a cousin of Poe. At the age of 26, he obtained a license to marry her in 1835. Not to be too judgy, but Virginia was thirteen years old and she was his cousin.

If you consider this, the poem becomes even more clear. To lose someone you love is a nightmare. At times you can only dream of the moments you were together. The realisation that this is no longer possible is like the (golden) sand, that slips through your fingers.

A dream within a dream

A dream within a dream

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
Throngh my fingers to the deep
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream.

— Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Image source: Wikipedia

Edgar’s classic poetry

He is not the only one! There is so much more to write about classic poetry. Edgar Allan Poe is an example of classic poetry. His words inspired others. Even today, many are grateful for the legacy he left behind.

Poe (1809 – 1849) was a child of the nineteenth century and became one of the most influential writers in history. Not only American history. People from all over the world read his poetry nowadays. His work covers short stories and poetry. The themes were mostly dark tales of mystery with a great sense of macabre things.

Unique about the work of Poe is the fact that he was one of the few in his time who wrote short stories. These stories were printed in newspapers. By doing this, he also created a new genre in literature: detective fiction.

At the time Poe wrote his work, he did only this. Most of the time he had no income. He chose to devote his life to writing.

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