The poem is fairly short and uses simple language that most contemporary readers are going to have no problem understanding. ‘A Dream’ was first published in Songs of Innocence in 1789, one of the most important collections of poetry in the English language.
A Dream William Blake Once a dream did weave a shade, O'er my Angel-guarded bed, That an Emmet lost it's way Where on grass methought I lay. Troubled wilderd and forlorn Dark benighted travel-worn, Over many a tangled spray All heart-broke I heard her say. O my children! do they cry Do they hear their father sigh. Now they look abroad to see, Now return and weep for me. Pitying I dropp'd a tear: But I saw a glow-worm near: Who replied. What wailing wight Calls the watchman of the night. I am set to light the ground, While the beetle goes his round: Follow now the beetles hum, Little wanderer hie thee home.
Explore A Dream
A Dream’ by William Blake details the plight of a lost ant who is trying to find her way back to her children and their father.
The first lines of A Dream’ begin with the speaker desiring how they were lying in their bed, protected by their guardian angel. While there, they dreamed that an ant was wandering lost in the grass (near where they were lying). The speaker goes on to personify the ant, describing it as “confused.” He heard the ant speak as well. She mourns for herself wonders what her children and their dad are thinking about her.
The speaker is moved by what the ant is going through and cries for her. Then, a nearby glow-worm speaks to the ant, asking what is going on. The worm is there, he says, to illuminate the earth when the beetle walks around. It’s easy enough to listen to the sound of the beetle walking, he notes, and follow that home.
Structure and Form
‘A Dream’ by William Blake is a five-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD, and so on, changing end sounds in each stanza. The first stanza is somewhat of an exception, though. The first two lines are closer to half-rhymes than they are to full rhymes.
Throughout ‘A Dream,’ Blake makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Troubled wilderd and forlorn / Dark benighted travel-worn.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound a the beginning of multiple words. For example, “hie” and “home” in stanza five.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza and lines one and two of the third stanza.
Once a dream did weave a shade,
O’er my Angel-guarded bed,
That an Emmet lost it’s way
Where on grass methought I lay.
In the first stanza of ‘A Dream,’ the speaker begins with the speaker describing how everything that’s about to follow is part of a dream. He had this dream while lying in the grass near to his guardian angel. The speaker notes that there was an “Emmet,” or ant, that was lost in the grass, unable to find her way home. The next lines are filled with examples of personification.
Stanza Two and Three
Troubled wilderd and forlorn
Dark benighted travel-worn,
Over many a tangled spray
All heart-broke I heard her say.
O my children! do they cry
Do they hear their father sigh.
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.
The speaker says that the ant was “forlorn” and “benighted” from her travels. She is “All heart-broke,” he adds. The ant’s words are included in the next lines. She cries over her situation and wonders if her children and their father are worried about her. Are they crying, and do they hear “their father sigh,” she cries. Here, Blake uses personification to suggest that an ant can feel sorrow, as a human can, and can speak in a way that human beings can understand. This allows the speaker and those reading to better empathize with the ant’s plight. It also adds to the dream-like qualities of the poem.
Stanzas Four and Five
Pitying I dropp’d a tear:
But I saw a glow-worm near:
Who replied. What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night.
I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round:
Follow now the beetles hum,
Little wanderer hie thee home.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker cries for the ant, pitying her situation but seemingly unable to help her. It’s at this point that the ant’s savior comes into play, a glow-worm. This worm, which lights the path for beetles at night, tells the ant that she just needs to follow the sound of these beetles, and she’ll find her way home. He uses the words “Little wanderer” to describe the ant, something that feels quite light-hearted and caring.
The poem ends at this point, without a clear resolution. But, readers can assume that the ant made her way back to her children and their father.
The tone is caring and descriptive. The poet uses the lines to paint a very interesting picture of what nature is. He suggests that the creatures around one care in a way that most people wouldn’t normally expect.
The speaker is likely meant to be the poet himself. He carries opinions used numerous times throughout Blake’s work. But, it’s also possible that Blake used a persona, or at least an imagined dream, in order to craft this poem.
The purpose is to paint a compassionate picture of the natural world, one that suggests that those who ask for help are going to receive it. All creatures are deserving of help and compassion, the poem suggests.
The themes at work in this poem include nature and helping those in need. These two themes come together in the speaker’s dream-like depiction of a female ant’s predicament.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other William Blake poems. For example:
- ‘A Poison Tree’ – published in the year 1794, is one of the most wonderful and appreciated works of poetry by William Blake.
- ‘Ah! Sun-flower’ – takes a creative and memorable approach to depict a weary sunflower.
- ‘Never Seek to Tell thy Love’ – describes one man’s choice to reveal his true feelings to his “love” and the failure of that effort.