A Dream Within A Dream by George MacDonald


Young, as the day’s first-born Titanic brood,
Lifting their foreheads jubilant to heaven,
Rose the great mountains on my opening dream.
And yet the aged peace of countless years
Reposed on every crag and precipice
Outfacing ruggedly the storms that swept
Far overhead the sheltered furrow-vales;
Which smiled abroad in green as the clouds broke
Drifting adown the tide of the wind-waves,
Till shattered on the mountain rocks. Oh! still,
And cold and hard to look upon, like men
Who do stern deeds in times of turbulence,
Quell the hail-rattle with their granite brows,
And let the thunder burst and pass away–
They too did gather round sky-dwelling peaks
The trailing garments of the travelling sun,
Which he had lifted from his ocean-bed,
And swept along his road. They rent them down
In scattering showers upon the trees and grass,
In noontide rains with heavy ringing drops,
Or in still twilight moisture tenderly.
And from their sides were born the gladsome streams;
Some creeping gently out in tiny springs,
As they were just created, scarce a foot
From the hill’s surface, in the matted roots
Of plants, whose green betrays the secret birth;
Some hurrying forth from caverns deep and dark,
Upfilling to the brim a basin huge,
Thick covered with soft moss, greening the wave,
As evermore it welled over the edge
Upon the rocks below in boiling heaps;
Fit basin for a demi-god at morn,
Waking amid the crags, to lave his limbs,
Then stride, Hyperion, o’er sun-paven peaks.
And down the hill-side sped the fresh-born wave,
Now hid from sight in arched caverns cold,
Now arrowing slantwise down the terraced steep,
Now springing like a child from step to step
Of the rough water-stair; until it found
A deep-hewn passage for its slower course,
Guiding it down to lowliness and rest,
Betwixt wet walls of darkness, darker yet
With pine trees lining all their sides like hair,
Or as their own straight needles clothe their boughs;
Until at length in broader light it ran,
With more articulate sounds amid the stones,
In the slight shadow of the maiden birch,
And the stream-loving willow; and ere long
Great blossoming trees dropt flowers upon its breast;
Chiefly the crimson-spotted, cream-white flowers,
Heaped up in cones amid cone-drooping leaves;
Green hanging leaf-cones, towering white flower-cones
Upon the great cone-fashioned chestnut tree.
Each made a tiny ripple where it fell,
The trembling pleasure of the smiling wave,
Which bore it then, in slow funereal course,
Down to the outspread sunny sheen, where lies
The lake uplooking to the far-off snow,
Its mother still, though now so far away;
Feeding it still with long descending lines
Of shining, speeding streams, that gather peace
In journeying to the rest of that still lake
Now lying sleepy in the warm red sun,
Which says its dear goodnight, and goeth down.

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All pale, and withered, and disconsolate,
The moon is looking on impatiently;
For ‘twixt the shining tent-roof of the day,
And the sun-deluged lake, for mirror-floor,
Her thin pale lamping is too sadly grey
To shoot, in silver-barbed, white-plumed arrows,
Cold maiden splendours on the flashing fish:
Wait for thy empire Night, day-weary moon!
And thou shalt lord it in one realm at least,
Where two souls walk a single Paradise.
Take to thee courage, for the sun is gone;
His praisers, the glad birds, have hid their heads;
Long, ghost-like forms of trees lie on the grass;
All things are clothed in an obscuring light,
Fusing their outline in a dreamy mass;
Some faint, dim shadows from thy beauty fall
On the clear lake which melts them half away–
Shine faster, stronger, O reviving moon!
Burn up, O lamp of Earth, hung high in Heaven!

And through a warm thin summer mist she shines,
A silver setting to the diamond stars;
And the dark boat cleaveth a glittering way,
Where the one steady beauty of the moon
Makes many changing beauties on the wave
Broken by jewel-dropping oars, which drive
The boat, as human impulses the soul;
While, like the sovereign will, the helm’s firm law
Directs the whither of the onward force.
At length midway he leaves the swaying oars
Half floating in the blue gulf underneath,
And on a load of gathered flowers reclines,
Leaving the boat to any air that blows,
His soul to any pulse from the unseen heart.
Straight from the helm a white hand gleaming flits,
And settles on his face, and nestles there,
Pale, night-belated butterfly, to sleep.
For on her knees his head lies satisfied;
And upward, downward, dark eyes look and rest,
Finding their home in likeness. Lifting then
Her hair upon her white arm heavily,
The overflowing of her beauteousness,
Her hand that cannot trespass, singles out
Some of the curls that stray across her lap;
And mingling dark locks in the pallid light,
She asks him which is darker of the twain,
Which his, which hers, and laugheth like a lute.
But now her hair, an unvexed cataract,
Falls dark and heavy round his upturned face,
And with a heaven shuts out the shallow sky,
A heaven profound, the home of two black stars;
Till, tired with gazing, face to face they lie,
Suspended, with closed eyelids, in the night;
Their bodies bathed in conscious sleepiness,
While o’er their souls creeps every rippling breath
Of the night-gambols of the moth-winged wind,
Flitting a handbreadth, folding up its wings,
Its dreamy wings, then spreading them anew,
And with an unfelt gliding, like the years,
Wafting them to a water-lily bed,
Whose shield-like leaves and chalice-bearing arms
Hold back the boat from the slow-sloping shore,
Far as a child might shoot with his toy-bow.
There the long drooping grass drooped to the wave;
And, ever as the moth-wind lit thereon,
A small-leafed tree, whose roots were always cool,
Dipped one low bow, with many sister-leaves,
Upon the water’s face with a low plash,
Lifting and dipping yet and yet again;
And aye the water-drops rained from the leaves,
With music-laughter as they found their home.
And from the woods came blossom-fragrance, faint,
Or full, like rising, falling harmonies;
Luxuriance of life, which overflows
In scents ethereal on the ocean air;
Each breathing on the rest the blessedness
Of its peculiar being, filled with good
Till its cup runneth over with delight:
They drank the mingled odours as they lay,
The air in which the sensuous being breathes,
Till summer-sleep fell on their hearts and eyes.

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The night was mild and innocent of ill;
‘Twas but a sleeping day that breathed low,
And babbled in its sleep. The moon at length
Grew sleepy too. Her level glances crept
Through sleeping branches to their curtained eyes,
As down the steep bank of the west she slid,
Slowly and slowly

But alas! alas!
The awful time ‘twixt moondown and sunrise!
It is a ghostly time. A low thick fog
Steamed up and swathed the trees, and overwhelmed
The floating couch with pall on pall of grey.
The sky was desolate, dull, and meaningless.
The blazing hues of the last sunset eve,
And the pale magic moonshine that had made
The common, strange,–all were swept clean away;
The earth around, the great sky over, were
Like a deserted theatre, tomb-dumb;
The lights long dead; the first sick grey of morn
Oozing through rents in the slow-mouldering curtain;
The sweet sounds fled away for evermore;
Nought left, except a creeping chill, a sense
As if dead deeds were strown upon the stage,
As if dead bodies simulated life,
And spoke dead words without informing thought.
A horror, as of power without a soul,
Dark, undefined, and mighty unto ill,
Jarred through the earth and through the vault-like air.

And on the sleepers fell a wondrous dream,
That dured till sunrise, filling all the cells
Remotest of the throbbing heart and brain.
And as I watched them, ever and anon
The quivering limb and half-unclosed eye
Witnessed of torture scarce endured, and yet
Endured; for still the dream had mastery,
And held them in a helplessness supine;
Till, by degrees, the labouring breath grew calm,
Save frequent murmured sighs; and o’er each face
Stole radiant sadness, and a hopeful grief;
And the convulsive motion passed away.

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Upon their faces, reading them, I gazed,–
Reading them earnestly, like wondrous book,–
When suddenly the vapours of the dream
Rose and enveloped me, and through my soul
Passed with possession; will fell fast asleep.
And through the portals of the spirit-land,
Upon whose frontiers time and space grow dumb,
Quenched like a cloud that all the roaring wind
Drives not beyond the mountain top, I went,
And entering, beheld them in their dream.
Their world inwrapt me for the time as mine,
And what befel them there, I saw, and tell.

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