Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “A Dream Within a Dream,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 450-452 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 450, continued:]


In the final form here presented, this is one of the best known and finest of Poe’s shorter poems. It takes a good deal from “To — —” (“Should my early life seem”) of 1829, which in turn borrows from “Imitation” (1827). Hence some editors have treated the three as a single entity. But in each case the revision is so complete — no line of the first poem remaining in the third — that it seems well to treat them as three separate compositions. “A Dream Within a Dream” is a mature poem, characteristic of Poe’s later years, and is based on an idea more complicated than the one that inspired the two earlier poems.

In “Marginalia,” number 230, in the Southern Literary Messenger for June 1849 (15:336), Poe wrote: “It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.” The reader may recall Shelley’s “Adonais” (line 344); “He hath awakened from the dream of life,” and the title of Calderon’s play La Vida es sueño.

I discussed the more complicated idea, “dream of a dream,” in Notes and Queries (London) for August 29, 1925 (p. 159). Poe wrote in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” (Godey’s, April [page 451:] 1844): “Novalis errs not in saying that ‘we are near waking when we dream that we dream.’ ” Poe found the quotation in Sarah Austin’s Fragments from German Prose Writers (New York, 1841), p. 21. For the original, see Novalis, Schriften (Jena, 1907), II, 141. Among the many literary parallels, Poe surely was familiar with a passage near the end of Shelley’s “Sensitive Plant”:

... in this life

Of error, ignorance and strife,

Where nothing is but all things seem,

And we the shadows of the dream.

And E. C. Pinkney has in Rodolph, I, 71-72: “Alas! that such a tale must seem / The fiction of a dreaming dream!”

But Poe’s exact phrase, “a dream within a dream,” occurs in the first chapter of Margaret Fuller’s Summer on the Lakes (Boston, 1844), p. 7, in a passage Poe quoted in his “Literati” sketch of her (Works, III, 78-79). And I also find it in Graham’s for October 1848, as the title of a sentimental story by C. A. Washburn which ends, “It was but a dream within a dream.” It seems not unlikely that this last item set Poe to reworking his verses of 1829.


(A) Manuscript sent to Mrs. Richmond in 1849 — facsimile in London Bookman, January 1909 (35:190); (B) Boston Flag of Our Union for March 31, 1849; (C) Richmond Examiner proof sheets, summer of 1849 (Whitty, Complete Poems, 1911, p. 123); (D) Works (1850), II, 40.

The text used is D, not differing verbally from B. The doubtful character of the proof sheet text (C) is well known, but in this case the changes do seem to me to sound like Poe.

[page 452, continued:]


Title:  For Annie (A); To — (C)

1  the / thy (C) (perhaps a misprint, but there is a similar clash of “thee” and “you” in Politian, III, 35-36 and VI, 97-98)

1-9  Not in A

4  wrong, who / wrong, to (C)

19, 21  O God! / Oh, God! (A)

23  we see / I see (A)

[page 452, continued:]


Title:  The blank of the proof-sheet version should stand for “Annie,” but Poe may have hoped that Mrs. Shelton and her friends would imagine that it was meant for “Elmira.”

15  Campbell (Poems, p. 163) compared Politian, VI, 41: “The sands of Time are changed to golden grains.”





[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (A Dream Within a Dream)