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Critical Essay on Edgar Allan Poe's 'A Dream within a Dream' with an Analysis of the Various Poetic Devices Used in It

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‘A Dream Within a Dream’ by Edgar Allan Poe is a poem about the loss of love, the heartbreaking sadness that one faces, and the short nature of time. The poem is well known due to Poe’s various poetic devices that have been used to represent the intense context that Poe expresses in this poem.

One can easily notice that Poe wrote this poem after he had lost someone he loved. Poe wrote the poem as a reflection of his misery on the tragic event. Therefore, this poem holds his misery for the loss of love and hopelessness towards life. Poe uses a very depressing tone in his poem to express his love for his loved one. Poe creates two stanzas that are very different but is able to link them together. Poe makes both stanzas describe that life slips away from us like a long-lost lover or a fistful of “golden sand” creeping through our fingers (Line 15). Poe is secretly trying to tell us by the two stanzas that life is precious, but sometimes death can come like a wave from a “surf-tormented shore” and take your loved one away (Line 13). Poe makes the structure of the poem ordinary to ending in only couplets or triplets, however, the theme is often periodically rephrased in some way in each of the stanzas.

Throughout the poem, Poe also cries out with sorrow and anger many rhetorical questions that are asked to only voice his importance and outburst rather than an answer. An example of his rhetorical questions would be in the last stanza when Poe makes all the last lines expressed in questions rather than answers. In the first stanza, Poe starts the poem with a formal goodbye to his loved one: “Take this kiss upon the brow!/ And, in parting from you now” (Lines 1-2). These two lines express Poe’s affection and pain as he loses his loved one.

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Poe also uses imagery by giving the reader an image of a kiss on a brow and a parting of ways, which indirectly means that he and his loved one are separating. This event that Poe could symbolize is the end of a relationship, time, or even life. It is assumed that Poe’s loved one claimed that life is only a dream by the lines, “You are not wrong, who deem/ That my days have been a dream” (Lines 4-5). This conveyed that the speaker came to the realization that his life was just a dream. Once the speaker had accepted the loss of his significant other, Poe mentions: “Yet if hope has flown away. The less gone?” (Lines 6, 9). The use of personification symbolizes hope to be a bird that has flown away. It relates to the tone of this poem by illustrating Poe’s hopelessness when it comes to hope. Poe also used the refraining word ‘in’ in lines seven and eight to highlight how hope is fragile and can be destroyed abruptly at any moment when no one is expecting it. Poe concludes the first stanza by mentioning that “All what we see or seem/ Is a dream within a dream” (Lines 10-11). In this instance, Poe uses alliteration within the terms ‘see’ and ‘seem’ to inform the reader that nothing that one sees, feels, or even notices is any more real than a dream. ??

In the second stanza, Poe uses a different environment to express the situation. Poe introduces the reader to his lack of love through the imagery of himself grasping “grains of golden sand” that “creep” (Lines 15-16). This image that Poe represents in his poem is a significant idea due to it being his central argument that Poe keeps rephrasing in each stanza. First, Poe’s image of ‘golden sand’ falling makes the readers picture an hourglass which symbolizes time passing by. The speaker grabs sand and lets it run between his fingers, which reminds him of the meaninglessness of life, and that nothing is more real than a dream. Another piece of imagery that Poe introduces to the reader is the powerful image of the “surf-tormented shore” (Line 13). This line creates a metaphor for how the speaker feels about the waves slowly pounding away at the physical existence of the shore. The word ‘tormented’ expresses Poe’s torture from the loss of his loved one, how the ‘waves’ and ‘roars’ are overpowering him, and how he is drowning in his own misery. The poem continues all about the speaker’s struggles and the pain that he feels for his loved one. All of these metaphors have meanings close to the short nature of time, which leads Poe to the conclusion that life has no meaning and no purpose without love, as life passes by so fast. The refrain “While I weep- while I weep!” was added to help communicate the speaker’s loss of happiness (Line 18). It uses auditory imagery by repeating the ‘wuh’ sound. Hearing the ‘wuh’ sound aloud gives the image of someone in misery or despair. The ‘wuh’ sound is also a great example of alliteration. Poe emphasizes the speaker’s pain by placing a combination of a metaphor and personification in “saving one from the pitiless wave” (Line 22). Poe is comparing the loss of a loved one to a pitiless wave. However, simultaneously, he is giving an inanimate object a human trait. Poe continuously uses the phrase “O God” to express his feelings and emotions towards his loved one (Lines 19, 21). He follows this refrain with “Can I not grasp/ Them with a tighter clasp?”, showing that the speaker is beginning to get frustrated with the weak grasp on reality. Then to conclude and finish with the theme, Poe uses two questions at the end of his poem “Is all that we see or seem/ But a dream within a dream”, to rephrase that once again everything was a dream.

When looking at the poem as a whole, it is a free verse poem mostly composed of couplets with the exception of a few three-verse rhyme schemes. Along with end rhyme, there is one example of eye rhyme. The lines “In a vision, or in none,/ Is it therefore the less gone,” illustrate a perfect instance where eye rhyme was performed (Lines 8-9). Eye rhyme is when two words look like they should rhyme, but actually do not. The words ‘none’ and ‘gone’ look like they should rhyme due to the fact that they end in the same last three letters, but they actually do not when said aloud. In addition, there are several uses for end-stopped lines. This is when a line ends with a period of a definite punctuation mark. “And, in parting from you now”, demonstrates an end-stopped line because the line ends with a comma (Line 2). This creates a natural pause when an audience is reading. These pauses also give the poem rhythm and pace. Punctuation marks are based on the choice of words and how they are arranged. The diction in this poem includes words that are not used in today’s English language. The diction includes detailed words such as ‘avow’.

In conclusion, ‘A Dream Within a Dream’ by Edgar Allen Poe, is a poem that uses many poetic techniques and ways to express such an intense idea where loss, love, anger, and the short nature of time all take place is overall very effective as Poe manages to do so in such a short poem with only two stanzas. The poem displays some very important aspects of life such as death, the short nature of time, and hope in some cases as well within the theme of ‘loss of love’ and just one who loses their love. Despite this poem will still be remembered by myself on how Poe’s perception that everything around us now is just a dream and nothing is as real as we know it.

Work Cited

  1. Poe, Edgar Allan. “A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe”. Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
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Critical Essay on Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘A Dream within a Dream’ with an Analysis of the Various Poetic Devices Used in It. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“Critical Essay on Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘A Dream within a Dream’ with an Analysis of the Various Poetic Devices Used in It.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023,
Critical Essay on Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘A Dream within a Dream’ with an Analysis of the Various Poetic Devices Used in It. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
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