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The Dream -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

       
(Poem #1252) The Dream
 I

 Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
 A boundary between the things misnamed
 Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
 And a wide realm of wild reality,
 And dreams in their development have breath,
 And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
 They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
 They take a weight from off waking toils,
 They do divide our being; they become
 A portion of ourselves as of our time,
 And look like heralds of eternity;
 They pass like spirits of the past - they speak
 Like sibyls of the future; they have power -
 The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
 They make us what we were not - what they will,
 And shake us with the vision that's gone by,
 The dread of vanished shadows - Are they so?
 Is not the past all shadow? - What are they?
 Creations of the mind? - The mind can make
 Substances, and people planets of its own
 With beings brighter than have been, and give
 A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
 I would recall a vision which I dreamed
 Perchance in sleep - for in itself a thought,
 A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
 And curdles a long life into one hour.

 II

 I saw two beings in the hues of youth
 Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill,
 Green and of mild declivity, the last
 As 'twere the cape of a long ridge of such,
 Save that there was no sea to lave its base,
 But a most living landscape, and the wave
 Of woods and corn-fields, and the abodes of men
 Scattered at intervals, and wreathing smoke
 Arising from such rustic roofs: the hill
 Was crowned with a peculiar diadem
 Of trees, in circular array, so fixed,
 Not by the sport of nature, but of man:
 These two, a maiden and a youth, were there
 Gazing - the one on all that was beneath
 Fair as herself - but the boy gazed on her;
 And both were young, and one was beautiful:
 And both were young - yet not alike in youth.
 As the sweet moon on the horizon's verge,
 The maid was on the eve of womanhood;
 The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
 Had far outgrown his years, and to his eye
 There was but one beloved face on earth,
 And that was shining on him; he had looked
 Upon it till it could not pass away;
 He had no breath, no being, but in hers:
 She was his voice; he did not speak to her,
 But trembled on her words; she was his sight,
 For his eye followed hers, and saw with hers,
 Which coloured all his objects; - he had ceased
 To live within himself: she was his life,
 The ocean to the river of his thoughts,
 Which terminated all; upon a tone,
 A touch of hers, his blood would ebb and flow,
 And his cheek change tempestuously - his heart
 Unknowing of its cause of agony.
 But she in these fond feelings had no share:
 Her sighs were not for him; to her he was
 Even as a brother - but no more; 'twas much,
 For brotherless she was, save in the name
 Her infant friendship had bestowed on him;
 Herself the solitary scion left
 Of a time-honoured race. - It was a name
 Which pleased him, and yet pleased him not - and why?
 Time taught him a deep answer - when she loved
 Another; even now she loved another,
 And on the summit of that hill she stood
 Looking afar if yet her lover's steed
 Kept pace with her expectancy, and flew.

 III

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 There was an ancient mansion, and before
 Its walls there was a steed caparisoned:
 Within an antique Oratory stood
 The Boy of whom I spake; - he was alone,
 And pale, and pacing to and fro: anon
 He sate him down, and seized a pen, and traced
 Words which I could not guess of; then he leaned
 His bowed head on his hands and shook, as 'twere
 With a convulsion - then rose again,
 And with his teeth and quivering hands did tear
 What he had written, but he shed no tears.
 And he did calm himself, and fix his brow
 Into a kind of quiet: as he paused,
 The Lady of his love re-entered there;
 She was serene and smiling then, and yet
 She knew she was by him beloved; she knew -
 For quickly comes such knowledge - that his heart
 Was darkened with her shadow, and she saw
 That he was wretched, but she saw not all.
 He rose, and with a cold and gentle grasp
 He took her hand; a moment o'er his face
 A tablet of unutterable thoughts
 Was traced, and then it faded, as it came;
 He dropped the hand he held, and with slow steps
 Retired, but not as bidding her adieu,
 For they did part with mutual smiles; he passed
 From out the massy gate of that old Hall,
 And mounting on his steed he went his way;
 And ne'er repassed that hoary threshold more.

 IV

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds
 Of fiery climes he made himself a home,
 And his Soul drank their sunbeams; he was girt
 With strange and dusky aspects; he was not
 Himself like what he had been; on the sea
 And on the shore he was a wanderer;
 There was a mass of many images
 Crowded like waves upon me, but he was
 A part of all; and in the last he lay
 Reposing from the noontide sultriness,
 Couched among fallen columns, in the shade
 Of ruined walls that had survived the names
 Of those who reared them; by his sleeping side
 Stood camels grazing, and some goodly steeds
 Were fastened near a fountain; and a man,
 Glad in a flowing garb, did watch the while,
 While many of his tribe slumbered around:
 And they were canopied by the blue sky,
 So cloudless, clear, and purely beautiful,
 That God alone was to be seen in heaven.

 V

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Lady of his love was wed with One
 Who did not love her better: in her home,
 A thousand leagues from his, - her native home,
 She dwelt, begirt with growing Infancy,
 Daughters and sons of Beauty, - but behold!
 Upon her face there was a tint of grief,
 The settled shadow of an inward strife,
 And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
 As if its lid were charged with unshed tears.
 What could her grief be? - she had all she loved,
 And he who had so loved her was not there
 To trouble with bad hopes, or evil wish,
 Or ill-repressed affliction, her pure thoughts.
 What could her grief be? - she had loved him not,
 Nor given him cause to deem himself beloved,
 Nor could he be a part of that which preyed
 Upon her mind - a spectre of the past.

 VI

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Wanderer was returned. - I saw him stand
 Before an altar - with a gentle bride;
 Her face was fair, but was not that which made
 The Starlight of his Boyhood; - as he stood
 Even at the altar, o'er his brow there came
 The selfsame aspect and the quivering shock
 That in the antique Oratory shook
 His bosom in its solitude; and then -
 As in that hour - a moment o'er his face
 The tablet of unutterable thoughts
 Was traced - and then it faded as it came,
 And he stood calm and quiet, and he spoke
 The fitting vows, but heard not his own words,
 And all things reeled around him; he could see
 Not that which was, nor that which should have been -
 But the old mansion, and the accustomed hall,
 And the remembered chambers, and the place,
 The day, the hour, the sunshine, and the shade,
 All things pertaining to that place and hour,
 And her who was his destiny, came back
 And thrust themselves between him and the light;
 What business had they there at such a time?

 VII

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Lady of his love; - Oh! she was changed,
 As by the sickness of the soul; her mind
 Had wandered from its dwelling, and her eyes,
 They had not their own lustre, but the look
 Which is not of the earth; she was become
 The queen of a fantastic realm; her thoughts
 Were combinations of disjointed things;
 And forms impalpable and unperceived
 Of others' sight familiar were to hers.
 And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
 Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
 Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
 What is it but the telescope of truth?
 Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
 And brings life near in utter nakedness,
 Making the cold reality too real!

 VIII

 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Wanderer was alone as heretofore,
 The beings which surrounded him were gone,
 Or were at war with him; he was a mark
 For blight and desolation, compassed round
 With Hatred and Contention; Pain was mixed
 In all which was served up to him, until,
 Like to the Pontic monarch of old days,
 He fed on poisons, and they had no power,
 But were a kind of nutriment; he lived
 Through that which had been death to many men,
 And made him friends of mountains; with the stars
 And the quick Spirit of the Universe
 He held his dialogues: and they did teach
 To him the magic of their mysteries;
 To him the book of Night was opened wide,
 And voices from the deep abyss revealed
 A marvel and a secret. - Be it so.

 IX

 My dream is past; it had no further change.
 It was of a strange order, that the doom
 Of these two creatures should be thus traced out
 Almost like a reality - the one
 To end in madness - both in misery
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
This is not one of my favourite Byron poems; it tackles a fairly lofty
topic, but the result does not really do justice to Byron's (considerable)
poetic talent. Nevertheless, it does have a certain haunting quality, which
made it stick somewhere in the recesses of my mind, surfacing again when
Suresh introduced his dream theme.

I believe that haunting quality lies in ever-widening scope of the poem. As
we trace the expanding histories of the "two beings", it's clear what Byron
was trying to capture - that mysterious disortion of time that can appear to
"curdle a long life into an hour". The poem also addresses the surreal,
shifting realities of a dreamscape - explicitly so, in fact, Byron
introducing every new scene with the repeated "a change came o'er the spirit
of my dream". The entire dream sequence is further bracketed by the first
and last stanzas, which go into even more explicit musings on the nature of
dreams and reality, and the unspoken question of how involved the reader
should be in the fate of the characters.

Nonetheless, despite the common ground it provides, I must return to my
earlier conclusion - this is not a very good poem. Indeed, if I may be
forgiven a moment of pure subjectivity, it totally failed to engage me.
While there were several nice lines and passages, the overall effect was dry
and lifeless, the entire poem seeming nothing more than a vehicle for Byron
to talk at the reader, and a thinly disguised one at that.  The sense I get
is that *Byron* was more interested in musing on the strangenesses of the
dream than in the dream itself, and that disinterest conveys itself to the
reader, lending the poem an academic flavour that does little for it.

martin

p.s. My favourite part of the poem? That'd be the line "and both were young,
and one was beautiful", a line that made me think "ah, now *there's* the
Byron I know and love".

p.p.s The first poem I thought of when Suresh proposed the theme was the
already-run "Dream of Eugene Aram", Poem #720. Well worth a reread.

33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Litz9669 said...

This poem has been posted both as 1249 and as 1252. . .

Les208 said...

II

the hill
Was crowned with a peculiar diadem
Of trees, in circular array, so fixed,
Not by the sport of nature, but by man:

Byron was married to Anne Isabella Milbanke at Seaham House on the coast of
County Durham, England. About three miles to the west of Seaham House there is
a barrow (now being excavated) which is crowned with 'a peculiar diadem of
trees.' As it is believed that Byron wrote this poem at Seaham then perhaps he
knew of this barrow which stands in open country but is crowned with, I
think seven trees.

I think Byron had a bit of a thing about trees. Along the road, now called
Byron's Walk, and about two hundred yards from Seaham House, Byron planted two
young holly trees and said, 'When their branches entwine, Anneabella will
join me in heaven.' Though the two trees were bounded by a picket fence, they
were removed for road widening. Of course their branches had long since
entwined.

Kind regards,

Les Alexander

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