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The First Dream Analysis

Author: poem of Billy Collins Type: poem Views: 10

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The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning

as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.

He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,

how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.

Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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The characters in this poem are portrayed as lonely figures, isolated by those around them because of a strange, new experience that cannot be understood: a dream. Collins captures the struggle to explain the intangible and explores the startling feeling of being the first to discover an abstract idea.
The poem opens with a narrator who is falling asleep when suddenly, he wonders about the first man ever to have a dream. The narrator imagines the man to have gone off to a lake alone, contemplating the new experience of dreaming. Collins’ description of the man’s actions, like “gone off by himself”, “sit on a rock”, “look into the mist”, and “tried to tell himself what had happened”, are linked to a common feeling of isolation, loneliness, and rejection (lines 9-11). His going off to a lake alone suggests that his peers’ inability to understand his dream isolates him. He illustrates the difficulty of explaining a concept or experience that no one else has ever been exposed to. After all, people reject what they cannot understand. Collins uses the image of the man to portray the difficulty of explaining the unfamiliar and the loneliness in not being able to be understood.
The narrator then considers how the first woman to have a dream would have reacted. He concludes that she would isolate herself much as the man would. However, the poem shifts from a third person narration to a direct address to the reader. The narrator claims that had the reader been in this scene with the lonely woman, he would have become the “first person to ever fall in love with the sadness of another”, to ever feel love and sympathy for another (lines 25-26). Collins now explores more than just the birth of dreams; he explores the birth of emotions. Once again, he aims to show the reader the struggle of understanding and explaining the new and the abstract. The direct address pulls the reader into this scene of the poem, allowing him to consider the startling feeling of being the first to love and to sympathize with someone. Collins makes this direct approach to reassert his previous point and to give the readers a profound ending to reflect upon.
Collins’ unique style contributes to the readers’ overall experience with the poem. It is written in unrhymed free verse with direct thoughts, which give the poem a story-like feel. The conversational voice in which the poem was written can also obscure the seriousness of the message for some readers. Collins leaves much about the characters’ thoughts unsaid and instead, relies on his characters’ actions to send his message to his readers. Only by picturing the characters’ “moving off” by themselves to be “alone near water” can the readers sense the solitude and the struggles that Collins wants his readers to pick up on (line 20). In addition, phrases of uncertainty, like “might have gone off”, “could have come”, “I suppose”, and “might have gone down”, create an overall tone of curiosity (lines 9, 17, 19, and 25). The narrator’s wandering thoughts instill into the reader a desire to know more about the first dreamer as well. All in all, Collins has created a poem that provokes profound thought from the readers.

| Posted on 2013-03-28 | by a guest

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