April 30, 2012

Lazarus: it may be good to dream no more

Emma Lazarus was 17 years old when she wrote her poem "Dreams," dated April 30, 1867:

A dream of lilies: all the blooming earth,
   A garden full of fairies and of flowers;
Its only music the glad cry of mirth,
   While the warm sun weaves golden-tissued hours;
Hope a bright angel, beautiful and true
   As Truth herself, and life a lovely toy,
Which ne'er will weary us, ne'er break, a new
   Eternal source of pleasure and of joy.

A dream of roses: vision of Love's tree,
   Of beauty and of madness, and as bright
As naught on earth save only dreams can be,
   Made fair and odorous with flower and light;
A dream that Love is strong to outlast Time,
   That hearts are stronger than forgetfulness,
The slippery sand than changeful waves that climb,
   The wind-blown foam than mighty weaters' stress.

A dream of laurels: after much is gone,
   Much buried, much lamented, much forgot,
With what remains to do and what is done,
   With what yet is, and what, alas! is not,
Man dreams a dream of laurel and of bays,
   A dream of crowns and guerdons and rewards
Wherein sounds sweet the hollow voice of praise,
   And bright appears the wreath that it awards.

A dream of poppies, sad and true as Truth,
   That all these dreams were dreams of vanity;
And full of bitter penitence and ruth,
   In his last dream, man deems 'twere good to die;
And weeping o'er the visions vain of yore,
   In the sad vigils he doth nightly keep,
He dreams it may be good to dream no more,
   And life has nothing like Death's dreamless sleep.

*I came across this poem, with its date, in John Hollander's outstanding collection Emma Lazarus: Selected Poems.

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