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A Dream Within a Dream Commonlit Answers

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  • 10th Grade

Source: A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

Assessment Answers

QuestionAnswer
PART A: Which sentence best describes the theme of the poem?Nothing in life is permanent.
PART B: Which lines from the poem best support the answer to Part A?“And I hold within my hand / Grains of the golden sand” (Lines 14-15)
PART A: What is the meaning of the word “vision” as used in line 8?a dream
PART B: Which lines from the poem best support the answer to Part A?“All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.” (Lines 10-11).

How does the division of the poem into two stanzas contribute to its meaning?

The division of Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream” into two stanzas plays a significant role in enhancing the poem’s meaning and its thematic exploration of impermanence, reality versus illusion, and the nature of existence.

  1. Contrast in Imagery and Setting: The first stanza introduces the theme and sets a more abstract, contemplative tone, where the speaker reflects on the nature of reality and the idea that life and experiences may all be dream-like. It’s more introspective, dealing with the speaker’s internal realization and questioning of the nature of existence.
    The second stanza shifts to a more concrete imagery of grains of sand slipping through the speaker’s fingers, symbolizing the tangible experience of losing time and moments. This shift from abstract reflection to a concrete example of impermanence illustrates the poem’s themes more vividly.
  2. Deepening of the Theme: The division allows Poe to first introduce the concept of life being a dream or an illusion in a more general sense and then delve deeper into the emotional response to this realization in the second stanza. By separating these aspects, Poe creates a progression in thought from a broad philosophical query to a personal, visceral experience of the theme.
  3. Emphasis on the Inevitability of Loss: The second stanza, with its focus on the futile attempt to hold onto the grains of sand, serves to underscore the poem’s meditation on loss and the inability to prevent the passage of time or the escape of moments. The separation into two stanzas highlights the transition from acknowledging life’s dreamlike quality to the poignant, tangible demonstration of that impermanence.
  4. Structural Echo of the Poem’s Title: The division into two parts mirrors the poem’s title, “A Dream Within a Dream,” suggesting layers or levels of meaning and experience. Just as dreams can be nested within each other, so too does the poem’s structure suggest a layering of reality and illusion, with each stanza offering a different perspective on the theme of impermanence.

In summary, the division into two stanzas contributes to the poem’s meaning by providing a structural means to explore and deepen the thematic concerns of reality versus illusion, the ephemeral nature of existence, and the emotional resonance of confronting these truths.

It allows for a nuanced exploration that moves from the abstract to the concrete, from contemplation to emotional realization, enriching the reader’s understanding of the poem’s exploration of human existence.

Discussion Answers

In the context of this poem, can we control our fate? What does the narrator in the poem think about his fate and life in general? Is this a valid perspective? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In the context of Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream,” the poem suggests a philosophical resignation to the inevitability of loss and the impermanence of life, indicating a perspective that we have limited control over our fate.

The narrator reflects deeply on the fleeting nature of existence and the illusory quality of what we perceive as reality, questioning how we can influence or grasp the substance of our lives and fate.

Narrator’s Perspective on Fate and Life: The narrator appears to grapple with the realization that much of what he has experienced or valued seems as insubstantial as a dream within a dream.

This is evident in lines such as “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream,” suggesting a view of life as ephemeral and beyond our control. The act of trying to hold onto the grains of sand, which slip inevitably through his fingers, symbolizes the futility in attempting to control or preserve moments, relationships, or aspects of one’s fate, reinforcing a sense of powerlessness against the passage of time and the forces of nature.

Validity of the Perspective: This perspective is valid within the existential and philosophical context Poe explores. The poem articulates a universal human experience—the struggle with the transience of life and the desire to find meaning or permanence in a world that seems inherently impermanent.

Literature, art, and history are replete with reflections on fate and how it can be controlled. For instance, the ancient Greek tragedies often depicted characters whose attempts to escape their fates only ensnare them further, illustrating the complex interplay between fate, free will, and human agency.

From a personal experience viewpoint, many people can relate to the sensation of life’s most crucial moments passing all too quickly or the realization that despite our efforts, some outcomes remain beyond our influence. This sense of existential reflection is a common thread in human consciousness, prompting both resignation and resistance in the face of life’s unpredictability.

Evidence from Other Literature, Art, or History: The theme of fate versus free will is a central motif in many works of literature and philosophy.

For example, in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the titular character muses on the nature of destiny and the role of individual agency, encapsulated in his famous soliloquy “To be, or not to be.” Similarly, in the realm of philosophy, existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre argue for the primacy of individual choice and agency in creating meaning in an absurd universe, offering a counterpoint to the notion of a predetermined fate.

In art, this theme can be seen in the works of the Romantic poets, who often celebrated the individual’s struggle against fate and the beauty of fleeting moments.

History itself offers numerous instances where individuals and societies have attempted to assert control over their destinies, only to be reminded of the limitations of such control by unforeseen events or the broader forces at play.

While “A Dream Within a Dream” suggests a viewpoint that questions our ability to control fate, acknowledging this perspective does not negate the value of striving for agency within the bounds of our existence.

It highlights a deeply human tension between acceptance and resistance, a theme that resonates across various domains of literature, art, and historical experience.

Through its lyrical meditation on loss and impermanence, the poem invites readers to reflect on the nature of existence, the limits of control, and the beauty found within the transient moments of life.


Poe is not the first writer to compare life to “a dream within a dream.” What does this phrase mean, and what does this comparison reveal about the nature of existence? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

The phrase “a dream within a dream” suggests a layered, almost surreal perception of reality, emphasizing the complexity, elusiveness, and ultimately the impermanent nature of existence.

This metaphor invites contemplation on the depth of our experiences, questioning the solidity of what we perceive as real and challenging the notion of a singular, objective reality. It reflects a philosophical inquiry into the nature of existence, probing the boundaries between the real and the imagined, the tangible and the intangible.

Meaning of the Phrase: By comparing life to “a dream within a dream,” the metaphor implies that our experiences and perceptions are layers upon layers of consciousness that blur the lines between reality and fantasy.

This comparison reveals a skepticism towards taking the material world and our sensory experiences at face value. It suggests that existence is more ephemeral and fluid than we might believe, filled with illusions and perceptions that can deceive us or slip through our grasp like sand through fingers, as depicted in Poe’s poem.

Evidence from the Text: Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream” utilizes this metaphor effectively to convey the fleeting nature of time and the elusive quality of reality.

The speaker’s lamentation over the grains of sand slipping through his fingers serves as a powerful image of how moments, experiences, and even truths can seem solid and real yet remain beyond our control and understanding, emphasizing the dreamlike quality of existence.

Personal Experience: In personal experiences, moments that felt profound or life-changing can, over time, seem distant or unreal, as if they were part of a dream. This sensation underlines the subjective nature of our perceptions and memories, which can warp or fade, leaving us to question the reality of those experiences and, by extension, the reality of our broader existence.

Other Literature, Art, or History: The concept of life as a dream or illusion has been a recurring theme across cultures and epochs. In literature, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” includes the line, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” reflecting on the insubstantial nature of life. In philosophy, the concept of Maya in Hindu and Buddhist traditions suggests the world as an illusion, a dream-like experience that obscures the ultimate reality.

In art, surrealists like Salvador Dalí explored dreamscapes that blurred the lines between the real and the subconscious, challenging viewers to question their perceptions of reality.

Historically, the enlightenment period brought about a questioning of previously accepted truths, pushing humanity towards a deeper inquiry into the nature of reality and knowledge, much like awakening from a dream to question the nature of the dream itself.

The comparison of life to “a dream within a dream” serves as a profound philosophical metaphor for the impermanence and elusiveness of reality.

Through Edgar Allan Poe’s poem and the broader echoes of this theme in literature, art, and philosophy, we are invited to contemplate the depths of our existence, recognize the fluid boundaries of reality and illusion, and perhaps find solace or enlightenment in the acceptance of life’s dreamlike quality.

This metaphor not only reveals the complexity of understanding existence but also underscores the beauty and mystery that come with accepting life’s impermanent and elusive nature.

Other Commonlit Answers

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