W Walt Whitman

I Dream’d in a Dream by Walt Whitman

In ‘I Dream’d in a Dream’ Whitman explores themes of utopia, love, and human nature. The poem’s mood is wistful as the speaker explores the possibility of a love-based city. But, the optimism is curtailed by the fact that this was entirely in his mind. It does not exist in reality, a fact that encourages a reader to consider if it would ever be possible. 

I Dream’d in a Dream by Walt Whitman


Summary of I Dream’d in a Dream

I Dream’d in a Dream’ by Walt Whitman depicts a speaker’s dream of a utopian world in which love is the reference point for all decisions and actions. 

The poem is a concise depiction of what such a world would be like. In his dream, the speaker saw a protected city, impenetrable, and secure in its beliefs and institutions. It was a place where all men and women worked off the principles of love. All actions were taken with love, and only love, in mind. 


Structure of I Dream’d in a Dream

I Dream’d in a Dream’ by Walt Whitman is an eight-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem does not make use of a specific metrical pattern or rhyme scheme. This is a technique known as free verse and for which Whitman became known for with his poetry. His style often includes long times, uneven stanzas, thoughts in italics and parentheses, as well as the sporadic use of end-punctuation. Some of these features can be seen in ‘I Dream’d in a Dream’ as well. 


Poetic Techniques in I Dream’d in a Dream 

Despite the lack of a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, there are still several poetic techniques at play in ‘I Dream’d in a Dream’. These include syncope, anaphora, enjambment, and alliteration. The first, syncope, is the shortening of a word by removing letters. This usually occurs within the middle of a word and includes the removal of consonants, vowels, and multiple letters one after another. In the place of the dropped letter, the poet uses an apostrophe. In the case of this particular poem, the word “dream’d” is an example of a syncopic word.

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “robust” and “rest” in the sixth line and “dream’d” and “dream” in the first. 

Enjambment is another important technique used in this poem. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines one and two, as well as that between lines five and six. 

Whitman also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. In this case, there are several lines that begin with the first-person pronoun “I”. 


Analysis of I Dream’d in a Dream

Lines 1-4 

I dream’d in a dream

I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the

whole of the rest of the earth,

I dream’d that was the new city of Friends,

In the first lines of ‘I Dream’d a Dream,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title. He states, before anything else, that everything to come is going to be the description of a dream. He wants to make this clear upfront. The speaker knows that what he experiences is a true dream, something that is now out of human reach but will hopefully one day be a reality. 

The first part of the dream he describes is the “invincible” city. It can stand up to any attacks from the rest of the earth, physical and moral. It is a place of safety, cut off and separate from the negativity of the rest of the planet. This is a very good thing, as the next lines describe. 


Lines 5-6 

Nothing was greater there

than the quality of robust love, it led the rest,

It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,

And in all their looks and words.

In the following four lines of ‘I Dream’d in a Dream’ the speaker describes what was going on inside the city that made it so special. There was nothing more important in that place than love. “Robust love” was what everything hinged on in that place. It “led the rest”. When the men and women of that city needed to make a decision, it was based on what love told them to do. 

The “love” these people shared for one another and for the world around them was seen in every action they took. It was in their “looks and words”. This utopian world was the subject of the speaker’s dream. It is something that he clearly believes the world should strive for, especially if it can exist without fail. 

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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Leon Gork says:

    He is saying that it is in the nature of cities to be attacked. Which means that people living in cities are vulnerable and the ideal way, for defence is for the people who live in a city to be united by love of each other then love will lead them as a general leads his troops into battle. This is a paradox because soldiers who go into battle are usually required to have hatred as a sentiment for gaining victory. It’s unusual to think of love as a sentiment which can promote victory.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Maybe, but certainly in Hollywood love conquering all is a reoccurring theme! Not always the case in literature though – I’m looking at you, Mr Orwell!

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