A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

The Bi-Weekly Poem: Was ‘Inception’ all a Dream within a Dream? Edgar Allan Poe says Yes

A Dream Within a Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe

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?

Some Thoughts

Remember the opening scene of Inception, where Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character awakened in the surf of a strange and dream-like beach and you had no idea what was going on and neither, seemingly, did he? Then, remember how the rest of the movie was about dreams and entering and leaving dreams and maybe the whole thing was actually just a dream within another dream within another?

Well, recently, as I do every Halloween-time because I’m a nerd, I was rereading some classic Edgar Allen Poe. And I came across the above poem. And, reading it again, I realized that Inception was just a two-hour-and-28-minute Christopher Nolan film adaptation of the poem.

Example one, the beginning bit about partings? That’s the whole plot about DiCaprio trying to reunite with his kids and the whole subplot about his and Marion Cotillard‘s characters’ ill-fated marriage. Example two, “O God! can I not save / One from the pitiless wave?” DiCaprio trying to rescue Ken Watanabe from Purgatory. Example three, “You are not wrong, who deem / That my days have been a dream”… This goes back goes back to the very thing that made Inception interesting, a debate that still rages of between film nerds: Was it all a dream within a dream? The answer, written out in Edgar Allen Poe-English in the very poem that undoubtedly inspired Nolan’s movie, is a big, fat Yes.

So, for anyone who says poetry has no place is today’s (or rather 2010’s) pop culture, take that.




Background on Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston in 1809, but lived much of his early life in Virginia, after being orphaned. Later, he lived in a number of city including Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, and became a central figure of the Romantic Movement in America. He was one of the first writers of short fiction and is credited with inventing the detective fiction genre, but is best known for his macabre poetry and for marrying his 13-year-old cousin. Read more of his poetry via the Poetry Foundation.

The Bi-Weekly Poem: Every two weeks, I pick a poem–something seasonally appropriate or timely in some way. Or not–and transcribe it for your enjoyment. I also offer some thoughts on why I’ve chosen the poem and what about it I think is successful and a little background about the poet.

More of The Bi-Weekly Poem.

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