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):
EMPIRE OF DREAMS
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.
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?