20 pages 40 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

A Dream Within a Dream

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1849

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Symbols & Motifs


Sand is a loose granular substance found near a body of water, or where a body of water used to be, like a desert. A single grain of sand can be viewed as something unique. But in “A Dream Within a Dream,” the speaker cannot hold onto even one grain. The light, loose substance is difficult to keep hold of and slips through the speaker’s grasp.

The image of sand passing through hands also echoes the flow of sand in an hourglass, which is a tool used to measure time. Once sand runs out of the top of the hourglass, time is up. Poe’s speaker is cursed because he can never run out of time, but he can never grasp a single grain of sand to stop the current moment from passing.

In western cultures, sand is often associated with dreams. A familiar figure in Scandinavian folklore—and European folklore in general—is the Sandman. This figure throws sand in the eyes of children to make them sleep. In Hans Christian Anderson’s tale “Ole Lukøje” (1841), the Sandman gives dreams to good children and none to bad children. The Sandman or Ole Lukøje also has a brother of the same name who closes eyes for the last time and leads the dead to the afterlife.