Monday, April 25, 2005

Dreams and Poetry

Have you ever written something based on a dream, one that was so vivid and lingering that you had to get it out of your system?

Dreams are a fantastic source for imagery, emotion, and exploration. People write their dreams, paint them, sculpt them, talk about them, and wonder endlessly what they might mean. They are our subconsious mind's way of getting our attention and communicating what is going on in our core being. We gain a great deal of insight into ourselves when we pay attention to our dreams.

This poem by Charles Simic, found in A Book of Luminous Things, edited by Czeslaw Milosz, is a classic example of how a dream can frame a poem and power the poem's imagery and narrative quality. Simic is an American poet born in Serbia, and this poem is most likely influenced by Simic's memories of the German occupation of his country (171):


On the first page of my dreambook
It's always evening
In an occupied country.
Hour before the curfew.
A small provincial city.
The houses all dark.
The store-fronts gutted.

I am on a street corner
Where I shouldn't be.
Alone and coatless
I have gone out to look
For a black dog who answers to my whistle.
I have a kind of halloween mask
Which I am afraid to put on.

Charles Simic

The anxiety expressed in this poem is captivating, because although it is specific in its detail, and although most of us do not know what it is like to live in an occupied country, we can nonetheless relate to the feelings of lonliness, fear, and unknown impending doom. The darkness, destroyed buildings, the coatless boy, the lost dog, and the sense of being in a forbidden place create an intense sense of vulnerability and danger.

The mask perhaps represents the occupying forces, that is, if the boy put the mask on, he symbolically joins the enemy, at least on the surface. But then would his dog recognize him? The boy is afraid of the protective covering of the mask, choosing to stay in this dangerous zone until he finds his dog.

Any thoughts about Simic's poem? How do dreams power your art and/or process of self-exploration?


cj white said...

My dreams have always been transient, lasting no longer than the fleeting memory the day or two after. I've never been one to write down my dreams.

The first thing that struck me about this poem is the word "always". If I had this dream, I would likely have forgotten most of it, though I am certain the feeling of anxiety would stay with me for much longer.

But the author chose to hold on to this dream. To write it down. On the first page, no less. This was the beginning of his dreambook. It's as if he knows this is the start of a difficult journey, and needs the power of this dream to carry him through.

It's always evening

Danny said...

You have a very interesting topic on dream. As a surrealist, dreams are my sources of images in my works.

I have a diary of dreams too, which I found it fascinating to browse, once in a while, and discovered that real life situations are mixed up in a dream as if the chronology of time and circumstances is inconsequential, no beginning and no end...

Dream can heal bitter memories too, it can also predict the future.

I hope to wake one day in a dream when my life is over.

Amy said...


That's a good point, that the speaker says that this is the beginning of his dreambook. We are left ot wonder of the following dreams become more or less filled with that sense of danger, or if they are similar.

I wonder if the speaker chose to "hold on" to this dream, or did the dream hold on to him?

Amy said...


I kept a dream journal for a few years. It's funny how the most terrifying dreams struck me as hilarious when I read them out loud later.

Gilbert Koh said...

I don't know about Charles Simic's dreams, but the poem is definitely in his usual style -

he always writes in this surrealistic manner.

I like Simic in small doses;

reading too much Simic at one go, however, makes me feel like I'm about to go slightly mad.

sigmund fraud said...

This is the second poem I've read of Charles Simic, and quite a terrifying and disturbing one. The first one I'd read had made a deep impression on me, by its sheer imagery :


Charles Simic

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it sull weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill-
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.