A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

“A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe – An Analysis

Edgar Allan Poe was an American Gothic writer and is seen as one of the greatest to have ever lived. Thanks to this, his influence on the genre cannot be overstated. However, he also wrote many poems that we can read and analyze, and that is what we will do today with A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe. We will discuss the poet and the themes of the poem, alongside a lengthier analysis of the poem as a whole. If a discussion about A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe sounds like a great idea to you, then let’s get started!



A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

Date Published1849
Type of PoemLyric poem
Rhyme SchemeAAA BB CC DD EE
MeterMostly iambic trimeter
TopicThe real and the imaginary

A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe is one of the last poems that this famous Gothic writer wrote. It is not a particularly positive poem, but Poe was also not generally known for writing fun and happy poems or short stories. So, this is similar to the kind of output that he is best known for producing. This is a poem about the uncertainty and difficulty inherent in human existence, but we will get to a proper analysis of this text in time. Before that, we are going to check out a summarization of the poem for those who need it.

A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe Analysis A Dream Within a Dream (1849) by Edgar Allan Poe; Edgar Allan Poe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



Summary of A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

We do not all have the time to read an entire article about A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe, and for those people, here is a quick summary. There is a lot more to the poem than these few points, but for those in a hurry, these should help:

  • A Dream Within a Dream is a poem about human experience. This poem is, in more specific terms, concerned with ideas surrounding the ephemeral nature of human existence and the way in which we march along with time without having much control over any of it. It is not a positive poem.
  • A Dream Within a Dream mostly uses paired rhyme. While both of the stanzas of this famous Edgar Allan Poe poem do include the use of a triple rhyme, the rhymes are generally arranged according to pairs of rhyme, with “dream” being a recurring rhyme throughout the poem.
  • A Dream Within a Dream uses variable meter. Many poems vary in the use of metrical structures, but Poe is well-known for his highly rhythmic poetry, and this poem is no different. He predominantly uses iambic trimeter in this poem, but it is not consistently used.

This has been our short summary of A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe. So, for those who are still interested in learning about this famous poem, keep reading to learn a lot more about it.

We’ll start by looking at the poet himself.



Biography of Edgar Allan Poe

Poetic MovementRomanticism and Gothic literature
Years1809 – 1849
Place of BirthBoston, Maryland, United States
Known For
  • Lenore (1843)
  • The Bells (1849)
  • Annabel Lee (1849)

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the best-known American Romantic writers. While he was a central figure in American Romanticism, he was also one of the most important writers in Gothic literature in general. This can be seen in the fact that while he did write a number of more humorous stories, he is generally best known for his horror output. Many of his short stories are dark and unpleasant, but powerful in their ideas and imagery.

Deeper a Dream Within a Dream Meaning Edgar Allan Poe (1849); Unknown authorUnknown author; Restored by Yann Forget and Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to this, he is the man credited with creating the very first detective story. Essentially, without the work of Edgar Allan Poe, there may not have been any Sherlock Holmes. He did not write many works of detective fiction, but they came to be influential texts well into the future. Although, he is still often remembered for his Gothic work regardless of this.

One of the many interesting things about his relatively short life was that after his death, there was a concerted effort by a literary rival to destroy his reputation by portraying him as a degenerate. However, this may have actually worked in Poe’s posthumous favor because he came to be better known after his death than during his life.

There is still a certain mystique around his life and death, but the details of his life have become better known in subsequent decades.



An In-Depth A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe Analysis

A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe is a phenomenal text and one that is also rather interesting in its presentation. It is an instance of a poetry type known as a lyric poem, but it otherwise has its own structure and layout. For instance, it is only made up of two stanzas. Each of these stanzas maintains its own rhyme scheme, but they are ultimately similar to one another in that they all make use of a series of rhyming couplets, although there is always one triple rhyme in each of the stanzas.

Famous a Dream Within a Dream Meaning

This more unusual presentation works to the benefit of the poem as it is concerned with a more disjointed perspective on life itself. Now, with all of that out of the way, we can get started with our A Dream Within a Dream analysis to determine the various themes and meanings embedded within it.


Stanza One

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but A Dream Within a Dream.

The first line of the poem provides us with imagery surrounding a kiss. It is a kiss upon a brow, and it is presented as a kiss of departure. This is obviously in relation to the ordinary tradition in many societies of kissing before departing. However, the speaker tells us that we are not incorrect in our feelings toward this person.

The next two lines affirm that this correctness comes from the idea that the life of the speaker has been nothing but a dream.

This has already established the tone as one that is concerned with ideas of unreality. The next lines, and each of the lines should be read as flowing into one another as they all make use of enjambment, tell us that even if there is no hope that we exist within reality, this does not mean that hope is entirely absent.

The poem also, when mentioning this prior point, lists off a series of possible locations in which these hopes could have departed, such as being at night, day, or in a dream. And it caps this section off by saying “or in none”. This indicates a difficulty in the distinction between the dream and the reality of the world.

Explore a Dream Within a Dream Meaning The Dream (1910) by Henri Rousseau; Henri Rousseau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The final two lines state the primary thrust of the argument that this poem is attempting to present to us as readers. It has stated that all, and the word is also emphasized in the poem, is nothing more than a dream within a dream. This shows the layers of this fear and worry that the speaker feels. They are slowly losing hope that reality is anything more than a dream.


Stanza Two

I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep — while I weep!

O God! Can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But A Dream Within a Dream?

The first four lines that make up this particular stanza introduce us to a new image. This is the image of an ocean with a golden beach. The image is a beautiful one, but also one that entails the speaker attempting to hold the sand in his hand as it, over the next few lines, slips its way through his fingers.

The slipping of the sand, and the way in which it vanishes beneath him in a sea of sand and water, he asks why god cannot allow him to hold onto the sand more tightly.

A Dream Within a Dream Meaning

The sand is the reality that he wishes to grasp. It is the sand that represents something to him. It is something to hold onto and something that the nature of the sand itself refuses to give to him to put his mind at ease. He begs god to allow him to save just one grain of sand from this dreamlike ocean, but he cannot have any of it, and the last two lines of the poem tell us that the speaker has started to contemplate whether absolutely everything around him is nothing but a “dream within a dream”. It is a dark and disturbing thought that may rouse questions in many who read it as they consider whether or not they too worry about everything we see being little more than a dream within a dream.



A Dream Within a Dream Meanings and Themes

While we have had a look at our in-depth analysis of this poem, we should also have a quick look at the A Dream Within a Dream meanings and themes to better understand the poem as a whole. In this case, the primary aspect of discussion within this poem is that it is a text about the difficulties inherent in understanding human experience and perspectives.

This means that some of the main areas that are explored include the idea of the ephemeral nature of human experience, meaning that it is fleeting and passes us by relatively quickly without us even necessarily realizing that this is what has happened.

Discussing a Dream Within a Dream Meaning Edgar Allan Poe Walking Over a Bridge (1930) by Bernard Rosenmeyer; Ivan Mosso, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This ties in with ideas of unreality and the difficulty in determining whether or not we are real in the first place. The poem also expresses our frustration over these kinds of issues. Time marches on without us and we are expected to keep going through it all. We must march through the loss and hopelessness that can come with these kinds of feelings because there is, quite simply nothing else for us to do. It is not the most positive poem in the world!


When it comes to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, there are many famous and fantastic poems available to read and analyze. Today, we have examined one of the best-known poems alongside a discussion of the writer behind it all, and the central A Dream Within a Dream meanings and themes. If you enjoyed this analysis and poem, there are many other poems by Edgar Allan Poe that are worth your time to read and enjoy!




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe?

This is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. The poem is concerned with ideas surrounding reality and whether everything is simply an illusion of some kind. Although, it may be better to state that it is asking whether everything is a kind of dream.


Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?

He was an American writer. He is primarily known for his poetry, short stories, and literary criticism, and some of his major contributions include being credited with writing the first-ever detective story. He is considered to be a central writer in American Romanticism and Gothic literature.


What Are the Themes of A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe?

When it comes to the A Dream Within a Dream meanings and themes, we are primarily looking at the idea of illusion in life. This includes ideas around our perception of time, whether we are truly real, and the ephemeral nature of human experience in general. This is a poem concerned with questioning our place in the world.


What Are the Other Famous Poems by Edgar Allan Poe?

Edgar Allan Poe wrote a number of immensely famous poems. The most famous of his poems is The Raven (1845). However, he did write a number of other poems that have also become famous in their own right, such as Lenore (1843), The Bells (1849), and Annabel Lee (1849).


What Did Edgar Allan Poe Write Other Than Poetry?

Edgar Allan Poe wrote a lot over his relatively short life. While he is known for his poetry, he also wrote a lot of short stories, and is seen as foundational in Gothic literature from the era. In addition, he was known for his literary criticism, which was often harsh and showed a dedication to Romantic ideals.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, ““A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe – An Analysis.” Art in Context. December 4, 2023. URL: https://artincontext.org/a-dream-within-a-dream-by-edgar-allan-poe/

van Huyssteen, J. (2023, 4 December). “A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe – An Analysis. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/a-dream-within-a-dream-by-edgar-allan-poe/

van Huyssteen, Justin. ““A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe – An Analysis.” Art in Context, December 4, 2023. https://artincontext.org/a-dream-within-a-dream-by-edgar-allan-poe/.

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