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Title: Dreams

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 23, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 23 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00385

Contributors to digital file: Jason Stacy, Elizabeth Lorang, and Kevin McMullen




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Dreams.

Dreams, to the pure of heart, are always messengers of love and beauty; be he the son of wealth or of poverty, they are to him a gilding which serves to adorn and beautify the roughest deformities of life. There are dreams of the day and dreams of the night, but around all fancy twines a magic wreath.

Here is a mother watching her tender babe. What dreams must fill her anxious heart. By night, while on her breast that sweet one calmly breathes, and timid sleep has gently closed her eyes, she dreams of nought but beauty, love, and tenderness. By day she dreams of the proud moments when those pure lips will lisp the name of "mother;" then, when by her side it ambles to the fields, to revel with the flowers, and join its laugh with the gay robin's song; then to the school she follows it; and then to the distant and more sombre path beset by manhood’s cares and duties, where she sees him, by his acts of honor and of virtue, shedding lustre on the name she gave; and then, in "melancholy pleasure,"1 she dreamily reverts to the hour when old age will throw down his frosts upon her head, and find him by her side, a watchful one, who will support her tottering step, and smooth the pillow for her dying head. Sweet are the mother's dreams.

And here is the toiling aspirant for wealth. We let him pass. His dreams are sordid, unsatisfying, and unworthy of the form he bears. By day, his thoughts are running among boxes, bales, and tierces; notes, and bills, and bullion; ships, and lands, and houses;—and by night, the order only is reversed—they are running in his thoughts. Anxious and unsatisfying are the worldling's dreams.2

And here is the blooming maiden. Her day dreams rest on fair and bright, though evanescent joys. The present is a sparkling holiday—the future, a sealed book, which she seldom urges fancy to step forward and unfold. And when her day of little cares has passed, and her quelled spirit seeks repose upon her virgin couch, visions of purity and peace hover around her head. Fair are the dreams of joyous maidenhood.

And here is the poor poet, with ashy cheek, but eye whose power discovers beauty in the smallest thing of earth.3 Night's shadows fall, and his limbs, wearied with wandering, are stretched upon his coarse pallet; the gnawing pangs of appetite are eased by dreams of present love and future glory. Now he revels in the fields of brightness spread around, and anon tosses in nervous anticipation of that triumphant hour, when, on the glittering wings of genius he will soar to regions of such surpassing lustre as will dazzle all beholders, and far overpay his own physical toil and suffering. And from the waking dream he gently passes into that more glowing, less alloyed, one of sleep. Far brighter scenes than even he had viewed in waking hours, now crowd around his path; and even while they change and flit his newly opened vision, deems them enduring. But fleeting is that hour of immaterial radiance, and he wakes again to find himself upon the couch of poverty.

But yet his spirit sinks not. Poor though he be in worldly wealth he has a soul which in Nature’s volume reads a lesson which imparts content, nay, highest happiness. That is a holy volume, filled with the most true and glorious illustrations which the universe affords, and is opened wide to all—as well to the meanest beggar as the mightiest lord—and he to whom God gave the soul to comprehend it, and to love its varied pages, is the happiest of his race, though poorest in the eye of undiscerning fools. And he who never drew life from that pure fountain, is poorest of the earth worm race, though bathing in a fount of gold. And this poor poet rises from his dreaming couch, to walk a dreaming path; and if but a crust of bread and a cup of water are his to stay the stern demands of hunger, he casts his eye upon morn's mantling blushes, the retreating mists, and opening flowers, and is well satisfied. Finally, as life progresses, he finds that one by one his earlier dreams—that all his earthborn dreams—are fading into nothingness; and as his mind has long been drawn from earth's corroding cares and gold increasing toils, he wakes—aye, wakes to revel in the glories of that world beyond the veil.

And there are children's dreams—fair, but transient. They come, like the zephyr, to impart warmth and cheer to the tender spirit. By night, like little stars, they twinkle through the mists of undeveloped intellect, and by day throw a veil of undefined beauty over the play ground and the fair scenes of home.


Notes:

1. This is a common turn of phrase throughout the early nineteenth century. For example, see: George Newby, Pleasures of Melancholy: In Three Parts (Keswick: T. Bailey and Son, 1842), 14; "In scenes like these, they spirit, sad, would feel, / A melancholy pleasure o're it steel"; and George Washington Light, ed., "A Ramble in the Graveyard," in The Essayist: A Young Men's Magazine, Vol. I (Boston: Lyceum Press, 1833), 235; "O, there is a melancholy pleasure in the appearance of an infant's corse [corpse], confined in the vestments of its coffin!" [back]

2. Whitman made similar arguments against materialism previously in "Sun-Down Papers" No. 3, published in the The Hempstead Inquirer on March 28, 1840, and in "Sun-Down Papers" No. 7 in the Long-Island Democrat on September 29, 1840. In both cases, he critiqued the new market economy by noting its damaging effects on individuals who pursued wealth. [back]

3. On March 8, 1842, Whitman wrote an extended obituary in the Aurora for the poet McDonald Clark (1798–1842), who he described in similar terms. [back]


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