20 pages 40 minutes read

Edgar Allan Poe

A Dream Within a Dream

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1849

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Lost love

In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe asserts that: “Melancholy is thus the most legitimate of all the poetical tones” (Poe, 6). Of the melancholiest topics, his philosophy was that the most poetic was the death of a beautiful woman. Before and after his wife’s death, many of his poems featured the death of a young woman.  “A Dream Within a Dream” could be read as following Poe’s principle, and that the other in the story is a dying woman.

However, the tone in the first stanza is more of a rejected lover. The speaker leaves the listener at their request, which does not line up with a usual deathbed interaction. He also responds to a particular insult from the listener: “You are not wrong, who deem / That my days have been a dream” (Lines 4-5) by attempting to defend his own viewpoint. This back and forth is more sensuous than the somber tone that usually accompanies a death.

Poe wrote a similar poem titled “Imitation” in 1827 after his first engagement with Sarah Elmira Royster ended. Around the time he wrote “A Dream Within a Dream,” Poe also had a canceled engagement with poet Sarah Helen Whitman.