Dreamland

Here in Wisconsin a dim shroud of chilling fog hangs over the January day–too warm to actually snow, but cold enough to chill the bones. A perfect time to read aloud one of Poe’s most atmospheric verses, a great example of Dark Romanticism.

Dream-Land

By a route obscure and lonely,   

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,   

On a black throne reigns upright,

I have reached these lands but newly   

From an ultimate dim Thule—

From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,

       Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.

 

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,   

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,   

With forms that no man can discover   

For the tears that drip all over;   

Mountains toppling evermore   

Into seas without a shore;   

Seas that restlessly aspire,   

Surging, unto skies of fire;   

Lakes that endlessly outspread   

Their lone waters—lone and dead,—   

Their still waters—still and chilly   

With the snows of the lolling lily.

 

By the lakes that thus outspread

Their lone waters, lone and dead,—

Their sad waters, sad and chilly

With the snows of the lolling lily,—

By the mountains—near the river   

Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,—   

By the grey woods,—by the swamp   

Where the toad and the newt encamp,—   

By the dismal tarns and pools

   Where dwell the Ghouls,—   

By each spot the most unholy—   

In each nook most melancholy,—   

There the traveller meets, aghast,   

Sheeted Memories of the Past—   

Shrouded forms that start and sigh   

As they pass the wanderer by—   

White-robed forms of friends long given,   

In agony, to the Earth—and Heaven.

 

For the heart whose woes are legion   

’T is a peaceful, soothing region—   

For the spirit that walks in shadow   

’T is—oh, ’t is an Eldorado!

But the traveller, travelling through it,   

May not—dare not openly view it;   

Never its mysteries are exposed   

To the weak human eye unclosed;   

So wills its King, who hath forbid   

The uplifting of the fring’d lid;   

And thus the sad Soul that here passes   

Beholds it but through darkened glasses.

 

By a route obscure and lonely,   

Haunted by ill angels only,

Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,

On a black throne reigns upright,   

I have wandered home but newly   

From this ultimate dim Thule.

–Edgar A. Poe (1844)

Read aloud, this lush and lovely verse is hypnotic. Poetically speaking, Poe pulls out all the stops: he employs rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, assonance (repeated vowel sounds within words) and a trove of literary and mythological allusions, such names as Eldorado, Titan, Thule and Eidolon, to wonderful effect. This truly is a verse to be read aloud. Granted, all verse should be read aloud, but if you just read this 19th century poem silently off the page, it’ll seem stilted. But if you take the time to speak it aloud–preferably while holding a glass of wine or brandy–it blooms into life.    

I’m not going to bore with you by trying to analyze this poem. There isn’t universal agreement on what it’s about. Very briefly, it strikes me as being about imagination, and how an artist’s dream life–that is, their imagination and subconscious–can be their salvation from the miseries and travails of reality. Poe’s reality was terrible: tragedies, losses, suffering, rejection, poverty, depression. What are many of the strange horrors described in this poem? Are they the stuff of fancy, or of real life?

Read it aloud and decide for yourself. What do you think?

The image comes from the front of my house, a photograph I took moments ago: it could be a photograph stolen from Poe’s own ‘Dream-Land.’

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