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“The Dream” is a poem by renowned English poet and theologian John Donne that was first printed in 1633, following Donne’s demise. Since then, the poem has been well-known for its complex use of philosophical ideas and its treatment of subjects like love, death, and spirituality. Despite being published more than 400 years ago, “The Dream” is still studied and admired for its intricate language and original poetic style. The poem’s appeal stems from how this difficulty was resolved.
About the poet
English poet, scholar, soldier, and secretary John Donne was born into a recusant family in either 1571 or 1572. He was appointed dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and is widely regarded as the foremost poet of the metaphysical school. His poetical creations, which include sonnets, love poems, religious poetry, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, lullabies, and satires, are known for their figurative and sensuous style. He struggled with poverty for a while despite having a stellar education and a gift for poetry. In 1615, he was made an Anglican deacon and priest and later wed Anne More. In 1601 and 1614, he was a member of parliament.
Dear love, for nothing less than thee Would I have broke this happy dream; It was a theme For reason, much too strong for fantasy, Therefore thou wak'd'st me wisely; yet My dream thou brok'st not, but continued'st it. Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice To make dreams truths, and fables histories; Enter these arms, for since thou thought'st it best, Not to dream all my dream, let's act the rest.
John Donne’s poem “The Dream” starts in a casual, conversational manner. The poet writes in a letter to his loved one that he had been having a dream that shook him so deeply that it could not have been purely make-believe. in actuality, it was based on reality since she entered and shattered his fantasy while he was fantasizing of her and the joy of making love to her. She made the right decision to do so since by the time she got there, his “phantasy” had been fixed and made more logical. His dream has undoubtedly been disrupted by her coming, but in a sense, it will still go on because the joys he had imagined are now actually happening. He is experiencing the same excitement upon her arrival that he did in his dream. She, a genuine, living, breathing woman, has made such fantastic reports of feminine beauty appear real and honest like facts of history. One reads of such beauty only in fables, that is, fanciful stories. She is the ultimate definition of all the poets’ idealized feminine perfections and attractions. The poet begs her to approach him and allow him to embrace her so that he might experience in reality the pleasure that she had interrupted in his dream. Here, it is important to highlight Donne’s use of exaggeration.
As lightning, or a taper's light, Thine eyes, and not thy noise wak'd me; Yet I thought thee (For thou lovest truth) an angel, at first sight; But when I saw thou sawest my heart, And knew'st my thoughts, beyond an angel's art, When thou knew'st what I dreamt, when thou knew'st when Excess of joy would wake me, and cam'st then, I must confess, it could not choose but be Profane, to think thee any thing but thee.
The poet continues to use hyperbole in “The Dream,” comparing the brilliance of her eyes to a candle’s light or lightning. He was awakened not by the sound of her arrival but by the brilliant brightness in her eyes. He initially believed that an angel had entered his chamber since she is also genuine like an angel. But in such cases, angels are unable to see into a person’s heart or understand his thoughts. Only God can achieve this. She is not only an angel but also divine since she is aware of his emotions, can read his thoughts, and can peer into his heart. She is a deity, far more powerful than an angel. She knew he was dreaming of her, and she arrived just as his excitement was about to overflow and shatter his dream, demonstrating that she is aware of his thoughts and feelings. Therefore, to consider her anything less than a deity would be impious. She deserves to be worshiped and revered because she is magnificent. Donne has thus presented argument after argument, like a shrewd lawyer, to prove his case that his lover is a goddess in human form.
Coming and staying show'd thee, thee, But rising makes me doubt, that now Thou art not thou. That love is weak where fear's as strong as he; 'Tis not all spirit, pure and brave, If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have; Perchance as torches, which must ready be, Men light and put out, so thou deal'st with me; Thou cam'st to kindle, goest to come; then I Will dream that hope again, but else would die.
The poet offers a fair amount of criticism of his heavenly sweetheart in the third and last stanza of “The Dream.” Her visit to his bedroom and extended stay there demonstrated that she was indeed a celestial person who was unconcerned with what other people thought of her. She is, however, acting against her own divine nature as she stands up and prepares to go. It demonstrates that her affection is not as powerful as he had anticipated. It is entangled with external factors including shame, anxiety over embarrassment, and concern over reputation loss. Such emotions are unbecoming of such a goddess. However, it’s also possible that she is leaving him for other reasons and not out of concern for her image. Donne employs a conceit in order to illustrate his argument. He likens himself to a torch and his beloved to someone who tests a torch once it has been lit, puts it out after testing, then maintains it ready for use. Her entry into his bedroom was meant to ignite his passions, to ignite the flame of his desires, and to give her the confidence that he was more than capable of gratifying her own sexual needs. She is leaving right now, but she will soon return to use the torch she has lit. He would keep having dreams about her coming home soon. Without this hope, he will undoubtedly pass away; with it, he may be able to survive.