The Dreame

Verbal foreplay

This is a good example of one of Donne's more erotic poems. It is playful in the sense that we have a sort of verbal foreplay situation: playful, but with a serious desire for sexual union afterwards. The poem teases us, too, as readers: is the poet going to get his wish? Or will he have to go to sleep again and just dream he is making love to his lady?

The poem plays with ideas of truth, sexual desire and dreams. He is clearly having an erotic dream when his lady friend wakes him for some reason. Is she going (i.e. leaving him), or is she coming (to have sex)? If the latter, then ‘My Dreame thou brok'st not, but continued'st it'. In other words, she can ‘make dreams truths', so she is a true lover.

Like an angel

Angel by Abbott ThayerThis leads him to liken her to an angel. Angels appear in dreams (Matthew 1:20 for example); are dressed in white, as she would be in her nightgown; and we call our loved ones angels. But angels have their limits (1 Peter 1:12). They cannot read people's thoughts. She, however, must have read his dream, waking him before it reached its climax to prevent ‘excess of joy' waking him instead. So she must be human after all, and not an angel. He is ‘prophane' to think that, since he sees her literally as a real person and doesn't spiritualise her into a sacred object.

A win-win situation

Then he wonders if that's why she woke him – perhaps she was creeping away? That would be to allow thoughts of ‘Feare, Shame, Honor' to creep in and suggest ‘That love is weake'. He then plays with the idea of light, as he did in l.11. Truth and light are seen as complementary. So she has come in truth to ‘kindle' light. But of course, these words have sexual overtones: torches are something of a phallic symbol; ‘kindle' suggests arousal; and ‘coming' and ‘ die' have colloquial meanings of intercourse. So in the end, he resolves his doubt with a win-win situation: either you go and I finish my dream of love-making; or we really make love.

The ultimate joke is, of course, we don't know if this a real situation, or just a fantasy one for the purposes of writing a poem. This is thus an excellent example of the play of literature, its joyfulness, where the truths of dreams, literature and real life tease one other.

Investigating The Dreame
  • Compare The Dreame to Aire and Angels
    • How does Donne use the idea of angels in both poems?
  • What is the effect of the very short third line of each stanza?
  • Although this is an erotic poem, would you say it is indecent?
    • If not, what keeps it from being so?
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