Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Of Poe and Christmas

A Dream Within A Dream

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.

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?

Edgar Allan Poe

I don’t exactly know just how I came to read this poem today, but there it was in front of me on the screen. The words were compelling; I guess that would be how I'd describe much of Poe’s work, compelling. This poem, on this particular day, captivated my soul in an unexpected manner. As I began to read the words, I thought, "How very sad." But, as I continued to read, the feeling changed to that of wonder and hope. Now, doesn’t that seem strange?  You just read the words above? Do they sound wonderful or hopeful? This is not exactly a hopeful poem on the surface. It comes across as rather dark and depressing -- it groans bitterly.

And, it was from out of that bitter groan I realized that Poe’s suggestion in the first stanza is folly. Life is much more than a dream within a dream. It is possible that man can deny a greater purpose and dash his own hopes among that very “surf-tormented shore” of Poe’s poem. But, in the end, it will not be a dream, an intangible, imaginary notion.

As the waves wash away the grains of sand that fall, to what does the subject in the poem cling? Nothing, if it is a dream within a dream – perhaps he’ll wake up. But to what, another dream? It’s irrational, and he knows it! He cries out, “Oh God!”

There must be more than what the senses can perceive. There must be more. Tormented or not, there must be more! The soul feels it, yearns for it, struggles after it -- the it that is invisible; the grace and help of God. 

Human relationship is fleeting, human life is fleeting. In the end, the one thing that is constant, that the soul can cry out to, cling to, hope in, is God. And, even in this rather foreboding poem, beckoning beyond that sense of despair -- that sense that is a result of the fragility of the human condition -- is faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) From the depths of the soul, as if straining to get past all the tangled impediments that beleaguer the flesh, hope reaches for eternity and begs an answer from the All Powerful Creator  – is this but a dream within a dream? He questions, his hope is not truly dashed among the shore; God has inspired the question to bring this man out of despair and into a unity of faith and reason. He finds himself tending toward that inner voice that says, “There is more. Just ask.”

The tone of this poem turns from the anguish of a man who has left his love, and finds time to be his enemy, to that of hope in his heartfelt, desperate inquiry to God. Its implication is that this cannot be a reality of “nothingness”, not if it can beg that particular question.  There is a point, there is a purpose. It is to be found in the journey of each man toward his final end, and the path he chooses. From the very core of misery, an ember still glows with the inspiration to seek first the kingdom of God. There is hope in the last line of Poe’s poem, of which all of us should take note. This hope is realized in the most surprising place -- this fresh, innocent and reasonable reality of faith is not dreamed, but rather, born of a Virgin and placed in a manger on Christmas morning.  

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