Poe's A Dream Within a Dream: Summary, Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Poem Summary
  • 1:31 Themes & Analysis
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson provides a summary of Edgar Allan Poe's 1849 poem, 'A Dream Within a Dream,' as well as an analysis of the poem's themes and how the poem corresponds to events in Poe's life.

Poem Summary

Edgar Allan Poe's short poem, 'A Dream Within a Dream,' was published in 1849. The poem is divided into two stanzas, and the speaker's tone changes drastically from the first to the second. In the first stanza, the speaker acknowledges that people think he lives in a dream world but also suggests that everybody does. Our perceptions of reality are flawed and all of us have a tenuous grasp on reality. Poe illustrates this belief in the lines, 'You are not wrong, who deem/That my days have been a dream;. . . All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.' The speaker's tone, or attitude, is one of acceptance, acknowledging that he, but also everyone else, lives in dreams, but that dreams can keep one's hope alive.

The tone of the second stanza shifts, however. The speaker seems frustrated with his weak grasp on reality. Using an ocean metaphor, or comparison, the speaker imagines himself standing on the 'surf-tormented shore,' holding sand that keeps slipping through his hands. At the end, he cries, 'Oh God! Can I not grasp/Them with a tighter clasp?. . . Is all that we see or seem/But a dream within a dream?' In this stanza, the speaker is isolated from other people. He seems to no longer accept the belief he expressed in the first stanza and despairs over not being able to break free of his dream world.

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