Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream” [Text-02], Saturday Evening Post, August 13, 1831


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A DREAM

A few evenings since, I laid myself down for my night’s repose. It has been a custom with me, for years past, to peruse a portion of the scriptures before I close my eyes in the slumbers of night. I did so in the present instance. By chance, I fell upon the spot where inspiration has recorded the dying agonies of the God of Nature. Thoughts of these, and the scenes which followed his giving up the ghost, pursued me as I slept.

There is certainly something mysterious and incomprehensible in the manner in which the wild vagaries of the imagination often arrange themselves; but the solution of this belongs to the physiologist rather than the reckless “dreamer.”

It seemed that I was some Pharisee, returning from the scene of Bath. I had assisted in driving the sharpest nails through the palms of Him who hung on the cross, a spectacle of the bitterest woe that mortality ever felt. I could hear the groan that ran through his soul, as the rough iron grated on the bones when I drove it through. retired a few steps from the place of execution, and turned around look at my bitterest enemy. The Nazarene was not yet dead: the life lingered in the mantle of clay, as if it shuddered to walk alone through the valley of death. I thought I could see the cold damp that settles on the brow of the dying, now standing in large drops on his. I could see each muscle quiver: — The eye, that began to lose its lustre in the hollow stare of the corpse. I could hear the low gurgle in his throat. — A moment, — and the chain of existence was broken, and a link dropped into eternity.

I turned away, and wandered listlessly on, till I came to the centre of Jerusalem. At a short distance rose the lofty turrets of the temple; its golden roof reflected rays as bright as the source from which they eminated [[sic]]. A feeling of conscious pride stole over me, as I looked over the broad fields and lofty mountains which surrounded this pride of the eastern world. On my right rose Mount Olivet, covered with shrubbery and vineyards; beyond that, and bounding the skirts of mortal vision, appeared mountains piled on mountains; on the left were the lovely plains of Judea; and I thought it was a bright picture of human existence, as I saw the little brook Cedron speeding its way through the meadows, to the distant lake. I could hear the gay song of the beauteous maiden, as he gleaned in the distant harvest-field; and, mingling with the echoes of the mountain, was heard the shrill whistle of the shepherd’s pipe, as he called the wandering lamb to its fold. A perfect loveliness had thrown itself over animated nature.

But, “a change soon came o’er the spirit of my dream;” I felt a sudden coldness creeping over me. I instinctively turned towards the sun, and saw a hand slowly drawing a mantle of crepe over it. I looked for stars; but each one had ceased to twinkle; for the same hand had enveloped them in the badge of mourning. The silver light of the moon did not dawn on the sluggish waves of the Dead Sea, as they sang the hoarse requiem of the cities of the Plain; but she hid her face, as if shuddering to look on what was doing on the earth. I heard a muttered groan, as the spirit of darkness spread his pinions over an astonished world.

Unutterable despair now seized me. I could feel the flood of life slowly rolling back to its fountain, as the fearful thought stole over me, that the day of retribution had come.

Suddenly, I stood before the temple. The veil, which had hid its secrets from unhallowed gaze, was now rent. I looked for a moment: the priest was standing by the altar, offering up the expiatory sacrifice. The fire, which was to kindle the mangled limbs of the victim, gleamed for a moment, on the distant walls, and then ‘twas lost in utter darkness. He turned around, to rekindle it from the living fire of the candlestick; but that, too, was gone.  —  ‘Twas still as the sepulchre.

I turned, and rushed into the street. The street was vacant. No sound broke the stillness, except the yell of the wild dog, who revelled on the half-burnt corpse in the Valley of Hinnom. I saw a light stream from a distant window, and made my way towards it. I looked in at the open door. A widow was preparing the last morsel she could glean, for her dying babe. She had kindled a little fire; and I saw with what utter hopelessness of heart she beheld the flame sink away, like her own dying hopes.

Darkness covered the universe. Nature mourned, for its parent had died. The earth had enrobed herself in the habiliments of sorrow, and the heavens were clothed in the sables of mourning. I now roamed in restlessness, and heeded not whither I went. At once there appeared a light in the east. A column of light shot athwart the gloom, like the light-shot gleams on the darkness of the midnight of the pit, and illumined the sober murkiness that surrounded me. There was an opening in the vast arch of heaven’s broad expanse. With wondering eyes, I turned towards it.

Far into the wilderness of space, and at a distance that can only be meted by a “line running parallel with eternity,” but still awfully plain and distinct, appeared the same person whom I had clothed with the mock purple of royalty. He was now garmented in the robe of the King of kings. He sat on his throne; but ‘twas not one of whiteness. There was mourning in heaven; for, as each angel knelt before him, I saw that the wreath of immortal amaranth which was wont to circle his brow, was changed for one of cypress.

I turned to see whither I had wandered. I had come to the burial ground of the monarch of Israel. I gazed with trembling, as I saw the clods which covered the mouldering bones of some tyrant begin to move. I looked at where the last monarch had been laid, in all the splendour and pageantry of death, and the sculptured monument began to tremble. Soon it was overturned, and from it issued the tenant of the grave. ‘Twas a hideous, unearthly form, such as Dante, in his wildest flights of terrified fancy, ne’er conjured up. I could not move, for terror had tied up volition. It approached me. I saw the grave-worm twining itself amongst the matted locks which in part covered the rotten scull. The bones creaked on each other as they moved on the hinges, for its flesh was gone. I listened to their horrid music, as this parody on poor mortality stalked along. He came up to me; and, as he passed, he breathed the cold damps of the lonely, narrow house directly in my face. The chasm in the heavens closed; and, with a convulsive shudder, I awoke.

P.


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Notes:

The attribution of this tale to Poe is by no means certain. It was first suggested by Killis Campbell in Modern Language Notes, May 1917, p. 270-271. Campbell repeats the idea in his article on “The Poe Canon” from The Mind of Poe and Other Studies: “But such evidence as we have is plainly insufficient to do more than to raise the question whether the story is not the work of Poe.” (The Mind of Poe, p. 210). It is also attributed to Poe by T. O. Mabbott: “I feel a text of the story should be presented, with a caveat, as tentatively assigned to Poe” (Tales, 1978, p. 6).

The strongest statement against accepting “A Dream” as part of the Poe canon of tales was offered by Burton R. Pollin: “I cannot accept as authentic the dream-story, called ‘A Dream’ in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post of August 13, 1831 . . . There are really no positive reasons for ascribing it to Poe, who never claimed or even mentioned it. Were I to include all of its words in my list I should negate a major purpose of the Index, that is, to test such passages against the totality of Poe’s vocabulary. On these grounds, there are reasons to doubt Poe’s authorship very strongly. He does not use any of the following words in his fiction (and only five in his poems): physiologist (7/1); Nazarene (7/10) gurgle (7/15); Judaea (7/25); beauteous (7/28); crepe (7/35); requiem (8/12); expiatory (8/11); candlestick (8/15); babe (8/22); matted (9/15); enrobed (8/26); light-shot (8/30); amaranth (9/3); graveworm (9/14); parody (9/17). Since many of the situations in Poe concern death, torment, and guilt the absence of these connotative words among the others is a strong reason to reject the article. In addition, it is full of mawkish, sentimental, stereotyped, and fustian phrases that are inexpressive, tasteless, and unoriginal: p. 6—’the slumbers of night’; the ‘God of Nature’; ‘the wild vagaries of the imagination’; 7—’the bitterest woe that mortality ever felt’; ‘the mantle of clay’; life’shuddered to walk along’; ‘the chain of existence was broken, and a link dropped to eternity’; ‘a feeling of conscious pride. . .this pride of the eastern world’; ‘the skirts of mortal vision’; ‘a perfect loveliness had thrown itself over animated nature’;’a mantle of crepe’ over the sun; each star ‘had ceased to twinkle’; ‘enveloped in the badge of mourning’; 8—’they sang the hoarse requiem’; ‘the spirit of darkness spread his pinions’; ‘I could feel the flood of life slowly rolling back to its fountain’;’’twas lost in utter darkness’; ‘the living fire of the candlestick’;’’twas still as the sepulchre’; ‘Nature mourned’; ‘the habiliments of sorrow’ over the earth; ‘the sables of mourning’; ‘a column of light shot athwart the gloom’;’still awfully plain and distinct’; 9—’amaranth which was wont to circle his brow’; ‘terror had tied up volition.’ Surely this does not ‘emirate’ (a contained spelling Poe never used) from Poe, who was even then writing those matchless satires and burlesques of the early tales of the Folio Club. It is not difficult to oust this from the canon where it is only ‘tentatively’ assigned by Professors Campbell and Mabbott”  (Pollin, Word Index to Poe’s Fiction, New York: Gordian Press, 1982, p. ix.). Personal communication from Dr. Pollin states that he communicated his concerns to Maureen C. Mabbott, T. O. Mabbott’s widow and the person who chiefly oversaw the completion of the two volumes of Tales and Sketches (1978). She agreed that the story should be omitted from the word index, having included it primarily in deference to the design left by husband at his untimely death. In Dr. Pollin’s list of words quoted above, the numeric values in parentheses indicate the page and line number, in the Mabbott edition of the story, on which the word appears.


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[S:0 - SEP, 1831)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - A Dream [Text-02]