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To Dream or be Dreamed? A Poem by Mark Strand


The dreamer’s identity has been a constant instigation to artistic pursuit.

Dreams – and all the fascinating possibilities derived from the human consideration of dreams – have nurtured and, one might almost say, even constituted human history. As a source of wonder, of (self-) knowledge and spiritual and healing practice, dreams always begin with the fall from vigilant consciousness – during the night when we sleep – and end in the morning, at an apparent changing of the guards.

The absence of ego surveillance, or whatever we want to call it, the “participant observation” that we experience in dreams, is not without consequences in the morning when we try to recall where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.

The poet, Mark Strand, (who’s also showed us the cosmic implications of creativity) has captured precisely that feeling of strangeness, of not knowing whether we or someone else has dreamed our dreams. He leads us point by point through a transition that begins with trying to remember a dream and ends, by day, again trying to remember the story.


Trying to recall the plot

And characters we dreamed,

     What life was like

Before the morning came,

We are seldom satisfied,

     And even then

There is no way of knowing

If what we know is true.

     Something nameless

Hums us into sleep,

Withdraws, and leaves us in

     A place that seems

Always vaguely familiar.

Perhaps it is because

     We take the props

And fixtures of our days

With us into the dark,

     Assuring ourselves

We are still alive. And yet

Nothing here is certain;

     Landscapes merge

With one another, houses

Are never where they should be,

     Doors and windows

Sometimes open out

To other doors and windows,

     Even the person

Who seems most like ourselves

Cannot be counted on,

     For there have been

Too many times when he,

Like everything else, has done

     The unexpected.

And as the night wears on,

The dim allegory of ourselves

     Unfolds, and we

Feel dreamed by someone else,

A sleeping counterpart,

     Who gathers in

The darkness of his person

Shades of the real world.

     Nothing is clear;

We are not ever sure

If the life we live there

     Belongs to us.

Each night it is the same;

Just when we’re on the verge

     Of catching on,

A sense of our remoteness

Closes in, and the world

     So lately seen

Gradually fades from sight.

We wake to find the sleeper

     Is ourselves

And the dreamt-of is someone who did

Something we can’t quite put

     Our finger on,

But which involved a life

We are always, we feel,

     About to discover.

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