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Déjà Rêvé

Dreamed 1800?-1805? by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I have beheld scenes, with the intimate and unaccountable connexion of which with the obscure parts of my own nature, I have been irresistibly impressed. I have beheld a scene which has produced no unusual effect on my thoughts. After the lapse of many years I have dreamed of this scene. It has hung on my memory, it has haunted my thoughts, at intervals, with the pertinacity of an object connected with human affections. I have visited this scene again. Neither the dream could be dissociated from the landscape, nor the landscape from the dream, nor feelings, such as neither singly could have awakened, from both.

But the most remarkable event of this nature, which ever occurred to me, happened five years ago at Oxford. I was walking with a friend, in the neighbourhood of that city, engaged in earnest and interesting conversation. We suddenly turned the corner of a lane, and the view, which its high banks and hedges had concealed, presented itself. The view consisted of a windmill, standing in one among many plashy meadows, inclosed with stone walls; the irregular and broken ground, between the wall and the road on which we stood; a long low hill behind the windmill, and a grey covering of uniform cloud spread over the evening sky. It was that season when the last leaf had just fallen from the scant and stunted ash.

The scene surely was a common scene; the season and the hour little calculated to kindle lawless thoughts, such as would drive the imagination for refuge in serious and sober talk, to the evening fireside, and the dessert of winter fruits and wine. The effect which it produced on me was not such as could have been expected. I suddenly remembered to have seen that exact scene in some dream of long * --

* Here I was obliged to leave off overcome by thrilling horror--
[Note by Mrs Shelley]
This remark closes this fragment, which was written in 1815. I remember well his coming to me from writing it, pale and agitated, to seek refuge in conversation from the fearful emotions it excited.


Shelley was a nervous man but not a fool. He'd spent a long time examining the difference between mental states, and he knew what déjà vu is: feeling you've been here before, not recalling a dream anticipating here and now. There's a word for that foresight: precognition.

Could he have been fooled, remembering a dream where there was none? Maybe. But I've experienced both too--déjà vu, and specific dream-recollection. And unlike Shelley, my dreams are on disk; I can run searches for these phantom dreams. And more often than not, I find what I remembered. Whatever its explanation, Shelley's phenomenon--"déjà rêvé," I guess--is real.

--Chris Wayan

SOURCE: Shelley's Speculations on Metaphysics, 1815, quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook, 1983). The date of the "déjà" is clearly 1810, but the dream would be years earlier still.

LISTS AND LINKS: memory and cryptomnesia - landscape - predictive dreams - long-term predictions - ESP as an issue - fear - Percy Shelley - Mary Shelley turns nightmare to novel in Frankenstein's Origin, and stars in Two-Headed Beast

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