A Dream - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Angel - The imagery of angels here is in the Christian tradition of angels as protective spirits, agents of God's all-pervasive care. For example, Psalms 91: 11 says:

‘He will give his angel charge of thee
To keep thee in all thy ways.'

Angels were traditionally seen as being particularly watchful at night (Psalm 91, for example, is often used as a night prayer) as the angel is here. There arose a belief that each individual was allocated a guardian angel, based on an interpretation of Jesus saying that children have angels who are always in God's presence Matthew 18:10. See Big ideas from the Bible > Angels.

Glow worm, photo by Herky, available through Creative CommonsLight and dark – There are a number of words signifying darkness: ‘shade', ‘dark', ‘benighted', ‘night'. They are associated with lostness, threat and isolation. The ‘tangled spray' indicates real and psychological confusion. However, the darkness is viewed from the perspective of light: angels are present (associated with brightness), a ‘glow-worm' is a ‘watchman' in the darkness, there is guidance in the shape of the beetle who follows a lighted path. Instead of isolation and vulnerability, there is companionship and security.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • How evenly balanced do the forces of light and dark seem to you?
    • What might Blake be trying to say through this?


The nature of innocence

Two aspects are included here:

  • The capacity for universal compassion combined with a sense of the unity of all creation. The innocent child's imagination and lack of self-awareness means s/he can identify with, and value, the simplest creature
  • The use of imagination as a retreat from awareness of vulnerability and anything negative. The child cannot face the prospect of sadness and loss. There must be a providential system protecting the insect-world, just as s/he benefits from an ‘Angel-guarded bed'.


As a contrast to poems like The Chimney Sweeper and Little Boy Lost, The Dream portrays a caring parent, who empathises with her offspring and actively seeks them. However, Blake still alludes to circumstances beyond a parent's control which can disrupt the parent / child bond. The mother ant is still only a ‘Little wanderer' easily ‘ 'wildered' by a hostile environment. The poem does not actually end with family reconciliation, only the hope of it.

Separation and loss

The Dream is one of many Songs highlighting the effects of isolation and separation from community. It is characterised by tears, sighs and darkness. In this poem, however, resolution is found in the natural community, which offers help.

Investigating themes

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