Thanks to Ira Cooper for suggesting today's poem
(Poem #1253) Dream-Pedlary
If there were dreams to sell, What would you buy? Some cost a passing bell; Some a light sigh, That shakes from Life's fresh crown Only a rose-leaf down. If there were dreams to sell, Merry and sad to tell, And the crier rang the bell, What would you buy? A cottage lone and still, With bowers nigh, Shadowy, my woes to still, Until I die. Such pearls from Life's fresh crown Fain would I shake me down. Were dreams to have at will, This would best heal my ill, This would I buy. But there were dreams to sell Ill didst thou buy; Life is a dream, they tell, Waking, to die. Dreaming a dream to prize, Is wishing ghosts to rise; And if I had the spell To call the buried well, Which one should I? If there are ghosts to raise, What shall I call, Out of hell's murky haze, Heaven's blue pall? Raise my loved long-lost boy, To lead me to his joy.-- There are no ghosts to raise; Out of death lead no ways; Vain is the call. Know'st thou not ghosts to sue, No love thou hast. Else lie, as I will do, And breathe thy last. So out of Life's fresh crown Fall like a rose-leaf down. Thus are the ghosts to woo; Thus are all dreams made true, Ever to last!
Note: Passing Bell (The): It now means the bell tolled to announce the death of one who has died in the parish; but originally it meant the bell which announced that the person was in extremis, or passing from time into eternity. -- [broken link] http://www.bootlegbooks.com/Reference/PhraseAndFable/data/947.html As Hamlet put it in his famous soliloquy To die -- to sleep -- To sleep? perchance, to dream. Ay, there's the rub; For in that sleep of Death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause. -- Shakespeare, 'Hamlet' and it is the same parallel between sleep and death, dreams and the afterlife, that Beddoes addresses in today's poem. And addresses well - there's a surprising density of images and concepts, and they shift and blend seamlessly and with a deceptive air of uncraftedness. The tone, too, exhibits that same smooth variation. "If there were dreams to sell, what would you buy?" - a happy, innocent opening that is at once darkened by the reference to a passing bell, then softened once more by the "rose leaf" (interesting that he didn't say 'rose petal'), so that by the time Beddoes says "merry and sad" he has indeed foreshadowed both types of dream. This shifting mood continues throughout, though shifting is perhaps not the word - what it does is build up a coherent whole by adding to it from various directions. And even that carries an unfair suggestion of haphazardness - there is definitely a clean logical progression running through the poem, for all its back-and-forth moods. Actually, the first thing that came to mind when I read the opening lines of the poem was the ending of Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line". In a mild flight of fancy, Stephenson speculates briefly on the ability to design your life down to the last detail, and notes that people will, in general, fly the complexity and seek refuge in ever-simpler prepackaged lives, which they'll spend complaining that things don't work the way they want them to. And what, I hear you ask, does this have to do with the poem? Well, there seems to be something awfully *passive* about buying a dream - and something boringly generic, too, about 'a dream' as opposed to 'your dreams'. Of course, the rest of the poem doesn't support this jaundiced interpretation, but that first impression did colour my reading a bit. And returning briefly to the 'mood swing' theme, note the interesting ambivalence with which the poem treats death - everything from a price to pay, through a lotus-eater's fantasy, to a genuine opportunity for 'dreams made true'. The biography attached to Poem #595 mentions that Beddoes had "an obsession with death that was to dominate his life and work", and that is certainly very much in evidence here.  which everyone ought to read. Really. http://www.spack.org/index.cgi/CommandLine martin