Dreams have inspired human creativity since we first made sketches onto the walls of caves in which we once dwelled. Stone and primitive paint became papyrus, then canvas and later, the flickering frames of film. But poetry, as an enduring art form, has continued to explore and attempt to explain the images created as we sleep throughout history.
Their settings, incongruous. Their narratives follow no logic. Their characters, cast from lifelong friends to faces subconsciously picked from a crowd. This connection to the unconscious mind has led to an attempt to infer meaning in their constantly shifting scenarios. The idea that dreams are some expression of a secret self, or perhaps a portent to a coming calamity.
Whatever their true purpose, poets have explored how they can provide comfort, elation, and terror. Our nightmares are often bespoke, our mind priming the perfect scenario to frighten us, drawing from past memories and traumas.
And yet we can find utopian ideas and optimism, as this altered state helps us to imagine new ways of seeing society, or conceive of potential happy futures for ourselves. They can also provide catharsis: putting us in contact with those who have passed away, but continue to live on in our memories. They can inspire a great deal of sadness as well.
You’ll find all those themes explored, and many more – in our collection of some of the best dreams poems ever written.