Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe

Dream-Land’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a five stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains eight, the second: twelve, the third: eleven, the fourth: nine, and the fifth: six.  

Unlike the number of lines per stanza, the rhyme scheme in ‘Dream-Land’ is very consistent. It makes use of a straightforward pattern of AABBCC, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There are a few words which break this pattern though, but not by much. One good example is the endings “floods” and “woods.” This is a half or slant rhyme, rather than a full or perfect rhyme. 

The meter is also consistent. It follows a pattern known as trochaic tetrameter (with a few deviations). This means that almost every line contains four sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first of these is stressed and the second unstressed. That being said, there are a number of moments in which Poe switches the order of the stresses. This is generally done to make sure that the most important words receive the greatest emphasis, or in order to throw a reader off, making lines more uncomfortable or surprising

 

Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe

 

Summary of  Dream-Land

‘Dream-Land’ by Edgar Allan Poe describes a traveler’s experiences in an alternative world in which ghosts and ghouls haunt a cold and terrifying landscape.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that he has just entered into a new world. It is ruled by a single, kingly spirit but contains many ghouls and dark angels. As the speaker moves through the landscape, nothing is as it should be. The oceans don’t have shores and the water rises up to touch the fire-filled sky. He eventually encounters the ghosts of long-dead friends and comes to the conclusion that this place is good for him. He has many woes to contend with and seems to be able to address them here. The poem ends as it began, with an almost perfect repletion of the opening six lines.

 

Poetic Techniques 

Poe makes use of a number of poetic techniques within ‘Dream-Land.’  These include consonance, assonance, and caesura. The latter is seen throughout the text, and contributes to the song-like rhythm of the lines. It occurs when a line is split rhythmically in half. Sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The second line of the third stanza, “Their sad waters, sad and chilly” is a great example. 

Consonance and assonance are the repetitions of consonant or vowel sounds. They often result in half-rhymed words within the text of the lines, and alliterative moments. Lines eleven and twelve of stanza two provide the reader with a perfect example of this technique and what it can do to a reader’s speed. Lines 9-12 utilize a large number of words containing, or beginning with, the letter “l.” This is especially true towards the end of the section. As these words pile up, a reader is forced to slow down their progression, mimicking the “lolling lily.” 

 

Images in Dream-Land

As is the case within most of Poe’s writing, this poem is scattered its poignant and often frightening images. One of the strangest, and most unusual is an “Eidolon.” This word is not in common use, and its presence in this piece, especially for a contemporary reader adds another level of mystery. It refers to a dark spirit.

 In this case, the “Eidolon” is named “Night” and he rules over Dream-Land. The phantom has a black throne he sits on and from which he watches over his lands. The phantom appears at the beginning of the text,  in line three of the first stanza, and at the end, in line three of the fifth stanza. 

The images of this ghost relate directly to those of the ghouls and the dark angels. Both of these kinds of beings are ephemeral. They do not exist actively in our world, but are very important within the landscape of Dream-Land.

 

Analysis of Dream-Land

Stanza One

By a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only, 

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright, 

I have reached these lands but newly

From an ultimate dim Thule— 

From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime, 

Out of SPACE—Out of TIME. 

In the first stanza of ‘Dream-Land’ the speaker begins by stating that he took a “route” that was out of the way, and lonely. There were no other travelers there, aside from the “ill angels.” While not totally alone, the creatures which haunt this path are definitely not human. There is one which reigns above, and looks down on, all the others. It is called “NIGHT” and it is an “Eidolon,” or phantom. The spirit is proud, sitting “upright” in his throne. 

The speaker goes on to address the fact that he is there. He just now “reached these lands.” He is a new arrival from “an ultimate dim Thule.” Another unusual word, “Thule” refers to an island at the very end of the world. It was a “weird” place, but was also beautiful. The fact that he has moved beyond it is connected to the last line of this stanza which speaks to his being “Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.” 

There are very few deals in this first stanza to help the reader make sense of what’s happening. But, this should be expected as the poem is titled “Dream-Land.” The whole thing takes on the feeling of a dream sequence.

 

Stanza Two

Lines 1-8

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,

With forms that no man can discover

For the tears that drip all over;

Mountains toppling evermore

Into seas without a shore;

Seas that restlessly aspire,

Surging, unto skies of fire;

The second stanza shifts the focus back to where the speaker is now, in Dream-land. When he looks around him he sees another sublime, or awe-inspiring landscape. It is at once beautiful and dangerous. The woods are enormous, like “Titan[s]” or gods. Everywhere he goes there is a danger to his life. From “boundless floods” to “chasms, and caves.” 

Sticking with the dream-like nature of the place, the speaker adds that “no man can discover” what the land is really about. There is something unfathomable about it. Plus, it is incredibly sad. There are tears all over it, creating the flood. Whether it inspires such sadness, or those who are sad are drawn to it, it’s not clear. 

The next images speak to the strangest of the place. Nothing is as one would expect. First, the mountains are toppling over forever and the seas exist with shorelines. Then, the waters are “Surging” into a sky made of fire.

 

Lines 9-12

Lakes that endlessly outspread

Their lone waters—lone and dead,—

Their still waters—still and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily. 

As if the tone wasn’t dark enough, the speaker adds that there are lonely and dreadful lakes all around. They “endlessly outspread” their waters which are “still and chilly.” The double “l” words, a technique is known as consonance (repetition of consonant sounds) which are scattered throughout these lines are meant to slow the reader down. One must take more time in their pronunciation of them. 

 

Stanza Three 

By the lakes that thus outspread 

Their lone waters, lone and dead,— 

Their sad waters, sad and chilly 

With the snows of the lolling lily,— 

By the mountains—near the river

Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—

By the grey woods,—by the swamp

Where the toad and the newt encamp,—

By the grey woods,—by the swamp

Where the toad and the newt encamp,

By the dismal tarns and pools

Some of the same information is repeated at the beginning god this stanza. First, there are lakes, which contain waters that are cold and lonely. They are also very sad, something that probably went without saying. Again, the speaker mentions the “lolling lily.” The reason for Poe’s repetition of these lines is connected to the dreamy nature of the entire poem. It is as if the speaker has become transfixed by this element of the landscape. 

He moves away from the lakes, and returns to the mountains. There is a river there and it is “Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever.” Here is another reference to eternity, reemphasizing the fact that this land is beyond what humans understand. 

The speaker is forced to confront the “the grey woods,—by the swamp.” There are toads and newts there, nesting in the “dismal tarns,” or little ponds, and “pools.” Clearly, this is not somewhere the speaker would usually like to be. It’s not an overwhelmingly beautiful landscape. 

 

Stanza Four 

   Where dwell the Ghouls,—

By each spot the most unholy—

In each nook most melancholy,—

There the traveller meets, aghast,

Sheeted Memories of the Past—

Shrouded forms that start and sigh

As they pass the wanderer by—

White-robed forms of friends long given,

In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven. 

Unfortunately, it is not just dark angels and a king-like phantom that reside in ‘Dream-Land’, there are also “Ghouls.” A reader should consider the importance of the inhabitants of Dream-land and the fact that there do not appear to be any other human visitors. 

It is impossible to get away from the ghouls, even if the speaker tried. They are “By each spot the most unholy— / In each nook most melancholy,—.” Something else the traveler has to contend with are the “Sheeted Memories of the Past.” They are represented by shrouded figures or forms, another terrifying image. This is due to what one can see and understand, and the many things which are left up to the imagination. 

Some more details are added in the last lines of this stanza. It turns out that the forms are “robed forms of friends” who have long since gone to Heaven. This is the first personal feature of the land and the only one that seems to connect directly to the speaker. It would also be the most emotionally shocking. 

 

Stanza Five

Lines 1-6

For the heart whose woes are legion

’T is a peaceful, soothing region—

For the spirit that walks in shadow

’T is—oh, ’t is an Eldorado! 

But the traveller, travelling through it,

May not—dare not openly view it;

In the fifth stanza of ‘Dream-Land’ the speaker describes how, in a way, traveling to this place is a positive. He has a heart that is filled with “woes.” They are numerous, or “legion.” Therefore, “Dream-Land” is a soothing place to be. It is “an Eldorado!” to the speaker. Eldorado comes up more than once in Poe’s poetry. It is a mythical city that is thought to contain untold riches and a utopian society. 

These features bring the speaker contentment, but he isn’t entirely happy. He isn’t ready to look at the land fully, with wide-open eyes. 

 

Lines 7-12

Never its mysteries are exposed

To the weak human eye unclosed;

So wills its King, who hath forbid

The uplifting of the fring’d lid;

And thus the sad Soul that here passes

Beholds it but through darkened glasses. 

Because he is still a human, and is fearful, there is a lot about the place that he will never see. His natural frailty makes this impossible. Plus, the king has a role to play as well. He “hath forbid” humans to open their eyelids. It is likely that this king is the same referenced in the first stanza. He is the “Eidolon.” Any who pass through this place must do so while wearing dark glasses.

 

Stanza Six

By a route obscure and lonely,

Haunted by ill angels only, 

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT, 

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have wandered home but newly

From this ultimate dim Thule.

The last stanza of ‘Dream-Land’ is the shortest, with only six lines. These lines should be familiar to the reader as they are a repetition of the opening six lines of the poem. It is an almost perfect refrain, a feature found within the most song-like of poems. Its addition contributes to the dream state that the speaker has been in for the poem’s entirety. 

The one change a reader should not miss in these lines is the fact that the speaker is leaving, rather than coming to Dream-Land. It is like these lines are the entry and exit, and all the while the Eidolon is watching. 

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