The Dream

Lola Ridge


‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge depicts the degradation of nature and the filthy environment around the poet. Massive industrialization causes different kinds of pollution. Pollutants from various sources destroy the beautiful and serene things of nature. The air filled with toxic gases, a room devouring “sulphurous” fumes and the sun darkened by the industrial smog appear in the poet’s dream. The loss of beauty at the same time she implied pain, are two main aspects of the poem. The last question of the poet makes it clear that she is actually lamenting for such kind of irreparable damage to nature.

The Dream by Lola Ridge


Summary of The Dream

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge presents the poet’s dream about the degenerating natural aspects caused by pollution.

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge pictures how things have fallen apart. In her dream, she cannot visualize nature as it was before. The air which once gave the soothing sensation at the beginning of a new day feels like a “vapour of opium” now. The poet cannot breathe even in her dream for the breathlessness outside.

The stately buildings or the “domes” filled with “sulphurous mist” choke her lungs in her dream. The sea, contaminated and deteriorating, has become still for the “Algal bloom“. And the sun emerging from the sea is not that pleasant to look at. Smoke from heavy industries has spread a pall around the dawning sun. It appears to Lola that the sun actually looks like a “junk of red iron/ guttering in sluggish-green water”. At last, the poet expresses her disappointment after seeing all this in her dream.

You can read the full poem The Dream here.


Structure of The Dream

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge is in free verse. Being a modernist poem it does not have any specific rhyme scheme or poetic decorum. In this poem Lola makes use of “stream-of-consciousness” technique to convey what she saw in her dream. She presents some broken images to the readers with the help of this device. The poem contains a total of 17 lines having uneven line lengths. There are some lines which have only one word. Some lines of the poem are too long in comparison to these short lines.


Sound and Meter

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge does not even follow a set metrical pattern. An amalgamation of iambic and trochaic meter makes the poem dull for a reader. But the poet had a reason to use such a meter in the poem. The meter used in the poem is actually a reference to the subject matter and mood of the poem. However, for the sake of metrical analysis of the text, we can say the majority of the feet are in iambic meter with few trochaic variations. Readers can find a spondee in the phrase “gray seal”.

There is an interesting alteration of meter and sound schemes at the last few lines of the poem. The majority of the feet in these lines contain the trochaic meter. The falling rhythm, another name of trochaic meter, is relevant to the theme of the poem. The last section creates a mood of detestation and depression in a reader’s mind. It is the reflection of the poet’s state of mind when she was writing this poem. In this way, the metrical composition becomes an important part of the critical appreciation of the poem.


Literary Devices

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge is rich in the use of imagery. There are some literary devices that are relevant to understanding the central idea of the poem. These poetic devices help the poet to portray what she had seen in her dream. Let us have a look at the literary devices used in the poem.


Lines 1–3

I have a dream
to fill the golden sheath
of a remembered day….

Readers come across such a device in the first few lines of the poem. Here the poet uses a metaphor of “golden sheath”. It is an implied comparison between a sheath and a day. The poet also uses the “dream” as a metaphor of a blade of a knife or sword. The dream discussed in the poem is no doubt feels piercing and prickly to the poet as well as to the readers.


Lines 4–10

heavy and massed and blue
as the vapor of opium…
fired in sulphurous mist…
quiescent as a gray seal…

The poet makes use of a simile to compare the quality of the air to the “vapour of opium”. In the fifth line, she uses a polysyndeton. The conjunction “and” is repeated twice in this line for the sake of emphasis. There is a metonymy in the phrase “sulphurous mist”. It presents the effect of sulfur dioxide in place of the cause. Readers can find another simile in the line “sea/ quiescent as a gray seal…” Here the stillness of the sea resembles the posture of a resting seal.


Lines 11–13

and the emerging sun
spurting up gold
over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay….)

The poet uses alliteration in “Sydney, smoke-pale”. There is a metaphor of “gold” for the comparison of its yellowish color with the color of the rising sun. Readers can also find a personification in the same line. Here the sun is personified and invested with the idea of “spurting up gold”.


Lines 14–17

But the day is an up-turned cup
and its sun a junk of red iron
guttering in sluggish-green water–
where shall I pour my dream?

In the first line of this section, the poet compares the day to “an up-turned cup”. It is definitely a use of metaphor. The idea of the poet in this implied comparison depicts the effect of “photo-chemical smog” at dawn. For such an ambiance, the sun metaphorically seems to be “a junk of red iron”. At last, the poet uses a rhetorical question or an interrogation to make the readers think deeply about what she has written in her poem. She urges us to feel her heartache after seeing all this in her dream.


Analysis of The Dream

Lines. 1–3

I have a dream

to fill the golden sheath

of a remembered day . . . .

‘The Letter’ by Lola Ridge begins in a manner that incites a sense of hope in a reader’s mind. Lola mentions her desire to keep the dream safe in her memory. She wants to look back and visualize the dream in the near future. That’s why the poet refers to the day as “the golden sheath”. Lola does not take much time in the introductory section. She directly jumps to the primary motif of the poem and presents what she has seen in her dream.


Lines. 4–8


heavy and massed and blue

as the vapor of opium . . .


fired in sulphurous mist . . .

In this section, Lola Ridge presents her dream. She encloses a set of images in brackets for pointing it out from the main body of the poem. The description of each image is brief and direct. In the manner of a dream, the poet presents those images in a nondescript manner. Likewise, she illustrates the quality of the air using merely three words, “heavy”, “massed” and “blue”. After reading this line a reader can understand that she actually illustrates the effects of the polluted air on her in the dream.

The domes or stately buildings are not out of the clutch of the choking air. Lola writes that the buildings are filled with the “sulphurous mist”. It is olfactory imagery and here the poet refers to the odor of sulfur dioxide in the air inside the houses.


Lines. 9–13


quiescent as a gray seal . . .

and the emerging sun

spurting up gold

over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay . . . . )

The poet presents two visual imagery in this section. The first one is regarding the sea. In her dream, the poet saw the still sea. It appears to the poet as a “gray seal” resting on the seashore. It is actually a reference to the sea pollution resulting in the stillness of the seawater. Here readers can also find a symbolic reference to immobility. Massive industrialization might have accelerated the process of development but behind the silver lining pollution has devastated the natural beauty. It has caused environmental degradation too.

The next visual image is of the “emerging sun”. The effects of pollution have not left the sun untouched. The morning sun “rising out of the bay” of Sydney seems “smoke-pale” in the poet’s dream. In reality, the image of the rising sun is not different. The photochemical smog in the morning air makes the sun look pale and dim.


Lines. 14–17

But the day is an up-turned cup

and its sun a junk of red iron

guttering in sluggish-green water

where shall I pour my dream?

In the last four lines of the poem, Lola Ridge presents her disgust in poetic words. She uses another set of images to portray her feelings indirectly. The day appears to the poet as “an up-turned cup”. This refers to the gloomy atmosphere around her. The day has just begun but the smog is hindering the light coming from the rising sun.

In this section, the sun appears to the poet as “a junk of red iron” when she looks at the horizon. In her vision, the poet sees that the seawater has turned “sluggish-green” due to the algal bloom. These images of the sun and the sea create a contrasting feeling in the poet’s mind. She thinks that the sun is actually guttering the junk of red iron in the green seawater.

After seeing such a dream Lola goes into a state of hopelessness and disgust. In all such impurities around her, she cannot find a suitable place to contemplate about the dream. This statement is an irony in the sense that the poet is actually in search of sensitive people who have time to ponder over the condition of our environment or the horrid pictures visualized by the poet in her dream.


Historical Context

‘The Dream’ by Lola Ridge first came into print in September 1920. It was published in the famous “Poetry” magazine of America.

Lola Ridge was a writer of the early modern period. In this poem, readers can find the use of imagery and symbolism. The unconventional structure of the poem also makes it a specimen of modern literature. If we consider the historical context of the poem, we can find a major reference to the effects of the “Second Industrial Revolution” on nature. During that period mostly chemical industries and automobile units flourished in America and Europe. It led to a rise in pollution and environmental degradation. Lola’s dream acts as a mirror. By using it she shows the readers how the industrial revolution destroyed the beautiful things of mother nature.


Similar Poetry

Let us have a look at the poems which resemble the theme of ‘The Letter’ by Lola Ridge. Readers can read the following poems and their analysis for their reference.

  • Crossing a City Highway by Yusef Komunyakaa – In this poem, Komunyakaa describes the distance between human beings and nature in the modern-day world.
  • The Borax by Dr. Seuss – This poem by Dr. Seuss depicts the same theme of pollution and its side effects on nature.
  • Parliament by Carol Ann Duffy – In this poem, the poet presents the passivity of the government in the face of climate change.
  • In a London Drawing Room by George Eliot – In this poem of Eliot readers can feel the mental disgust of the speaker after seeing the gloomy ambiance outside his room. The poetic person in Lola’s poem also goes through the same feeling after seeing the dream.

You can read the biography of Lola Ridge here.

Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.

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