The Nature of Sleeping and Dreaming


“Two whole years passed since the marriage of the prince and princess, and during that time they had two children. The first, a daughter, was called “Dawn,” while the second, a boy, was named “Day,” because he seemed even more beautiful than his sister…”

Charles Perrault
Sleeping Beauty

 
 

A c. 1901 illustration to the 1830 version of the poem, by William Edward Frank Britten

 
 

The Day-Dream was an expanded version of Alfred Tennyson‘s poem The Sleeping Beauty. It was further altered in 1848 for a dramatic performance for a private gathering with Tennyson starring as the Prince who was to wake up the sleeping woman. The Day-Dream, published in 1842, discusses the nature of sleeping and of dreaming, especially in relation to individuals that would want to escape from reality. The poem also compares the act of poetry with dreaming and asserts that the two are the same. It is possible that the story of a sleeping woman is the same used by Richard Wagner in Siegfried. The theme is also similar to John Keats‘s Endymion. Literary critic Arthur Turnbull claimed, “This is one of the most artistically executed of Tennyson’s creations; he was always fond of the slumberous side of things where music is the voice of the poppy dreams of fancy.”

Out of all of Tennyson’s poems, The Day-Dream is one of the few that lacks a use of irony. The poem relies on a similar theme as Tennyson’s The Lotos-Eaters in that it talks about a living death state. However, The Day-Dream emphasizes the pleasure in being able to return to a sleep state and avoid reality. However, the poem is similar to other Tennyson poems in that it relies on a frame for the story in a manner similar to Lady Godive, Morte D’Arthur and The Princess. The character Flora is similar to many of Tennyson’s females that resist their fate by desiring death, including the Idyl ladies Rose of The Gardener’s Daughter, Ida of The Princess, and Mariana of Mariana.

Tennyson originally published The Sleeping Beauty in his 1830 collection of poems. In 1833, Tennyson’s close friend Arthur Hallam died. The death greatly affected both Tennyson and his sister Emily greatly and he kept away from society as he slowly dealt with the pain. By mid-summer 1834, they slowly began to participate together in social events once again. At one occasion, Tennyson, his sister, and their sister Mary were invited to visit friends at Dorking and then travel onwards to see the Hallam family. However, Tennyson set out on his own and spent time alone at Leith Hill, Dorking. It was during this time that he worked on The Sleeping Beauty and early versions of Sir Galahad and The Blackbird.

A summer crisp with shining woods.
And I too dream’d, until at last
Across my fancy, brooding warm,
The reflex of a legend past,
And loosely settled into form. (“Prologue” II, lines 1-5)

The poem reverses time and declares that the living, contemporary artists are ancient while those who have died before are the young:

And all that else the years will show,
the Poet-forms of stronger hours,
The vast Republics that may grow,
The Federations and the Powers;
Titanic forces taking birth
In divers seasons, divers climes;
For we are Ancients of the earth
And in the morning of the times (“L’envoi” I 13–20)

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