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A Dream within a Dream: A Critical Analysis Essay

A Dream within a Dream, by Edgar Allen Poe, is a poem with its central themes being sorrow, loss, confusion and frustration. The poem is divided into two stanzas, each with a different setting but both closely interconnected. It begins with the narrator kissing his lover upon their “parting” (line 2). He ponders whether everything in life is nothing but “a dream within a dream” (line 11). The second stanza depicts the narrator standing on a sea-shore while he weeps. He struggles to hold the “grains of golden sand” (line 15) within his palm, but alas, is unable to.

The tighter he tries to grasp, the more they slip away. The poet, through this work of his, has portrayed his most profound feelings and thoughts. “The surf-tormented shore” (line 13) symbolizes the poet’s fraught state of mind. His mind is the shore that is “tormented” with many thoughts (surf). The grains of sand can be taken to represent the people and things that he loves in life. He communicates his sense of anguish at not being able to hold on to them, and at the thought that ultimately the “pitiless wave” (perhaps death) will carry them away.

The poet twice states that he is weeping and he cries out to God. This further highlights his agonized mental and emotional state. The lines “all that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream” are repeated twice; once as a question and the second time as a statement, possibly with a sense of hope that all the losses suffered by him are nothing but mere dreams from which he will wake. The language and strong use of symbolism by the poet endow the poem with deeper meaning.

The reader can easily relate to it because each one of us undergoes this sense of agony at the loss of a loved one. We might feel that things are slipping away from our hands but we remain helpless. The poet has captured this aspect of human existence very beautifully. Although there are portions of the poem that are vague as one cannot be sure what the poet is trying to convey, the overall effect of the poem on the reader is captivating. ? Works Cited Poe, Edgar A. “A Dream within a Dream”. Poetry X. 29 Nov 2004. 14 July 2010 <


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