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I once awoke from a dream while crossing Bond Street in New York with a friend, and it was snowing hard. We had been talking, and there had been no observable gaps in the conversation. I doubt if I had made any more than two steps while I was asleep. But I am satisfied that even the most elaborate and incident-crowded dream is seldom more than a few seconds in length. It is swifter than waking thought; for thought is not thought at all, but only a vague and formless fog until it is articulated into words.

The habit of writing down my dreams while they are fresh in my mind, and then studying them and rehearsing them and trying to find out what the source of dreams is, and which of the two or three separate persons inhabiting us is their architect, has given me a good dream-memory—a thing which is not usual, for few drill the dream-memory, and no memory can be kept strong without that.

In my waking hours, I cannot draw even the simplest picture with a pencil, nor do anything with a brush and colors; I cannot bring before my mind’s eye the detailed image of any building known to me except my own house; of St. Paul’s, St. Peter’s, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj, the Capitol at Washington, I can reproduce only portions, partial glimpses; the same with Niagara Falls, the Matterhorn, and other familiar things in nature. I cannot bring before my mind’s eye the face or figure of any human being known to me. I have seen my family at breakfast within the past two hours; I cannot bring their images before me, I do not know how they look.

Before me, as I write, I see a little grove of trees in the garden; high above them projects the slender lance of a young pine, beyond it is a glimpse of the upper half of a dull-white chimney covered by a little roof, and half a mile away is a hilltop densely wooded, and then a curved, wide vacancy, which is smooth and grass-clad. But I cannot shut my eyes and reproduce that picture at all, nor any single detail of it except the grassy curve, and that but vaguely and fleetingly.

My dream-artist can draw anything, and do it perfectly; he can paint with all the colors and all the shades, and do it with delicacy and truth. He can place before me vivid images of palaces, cities, hamlets, hovels, mountains, valleys, lakes, skies, glowing in sunlight or moonlight, or veiled in driving gusts of snow or rain, and he can set before me people who are intensely alive, and who feel, and express their feelings in their faces, and who also talk and laugh, sing and swear. And when I wake I can shut my eyes and bring back those people, and the scenery and the buildings; and not only in general view, but often in detail.

Everything in a dream is more deep and strong and sharp and real than is ever its pale imitation in the unreal life which is ours when we go about awake and clothed with our artificial selves in this vague and dull-tinted artificial world. When we die we shall slough off this cheap intellect, perhaps, and go abroad to Dreamland clothed in our real selves, and aggrandized and enriched by the command over the mysterious mental magician who is here only our guest.

In our dreams—I know it!—we do make the journeys we seem to make; we do see the things we seem to see; the people, the horses, the cats, the dogs, the birds, the whales, are real, not chimeras; they are living spirits, not shadows; and they are immortal and indestructible. They go whither they will; they visit all resorts, all points of interest, even the twinkling suns that wander in the wastes of space. That is where those strange mountains are which slide from under our feet while we walk, and where those vast caverns are whose bewildering avenues close behind us and in front when we are lost, and shut us in. We know this because there are no such things here, and they must be there, because there is no other place.

From “My Platonic Sweetheart,” which appeared in the December 1912 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

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December 2009

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