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A Pilgrim Dreaming

dreamed ca. 1977 by Denise Levertov
By the fire light
of Imagination, brand
held high in the pilgrim's
upraised hand, he sees,
not knowing what boundaries it may have,

a well, a pool or river--
water's darkly shining
mirror, offering
his sought-for Self.

O, he silently
cries out, reaching gladly.
But O, again: he sees
dimly, beside the knowledge
he has sought, another:

now he hesitates--
she whose face attentively
looks from the water up to him,
tutelary spirit of this place,
of the water-mirror,

who is she. It is
not a question.
It is a question
and troubles him. The flames

flutter and fail, Imagination
falters. His image
vanishes, he is left
in a vague darkness.

Then it is
he fears the glimmering presence,
her image
vanished like his own,
yet not utterly. Only

when with his breath
he reawakens fire, the light
of vision, will he once more

know the steady look, the face
of his own life. Only in presence
of his Self
can he look gladly
at that other face,

the mirror's gazing spirit,
mute, eloquent, weak, a power,
yet giving
what he desires, if he gives light.


There is a type of dream that... virtually writes itself... the nature of a close relationship was dreamed in what felt like mythic terms; the resulting poem, "A Pilgrim Dreaming" (published in Life in the Forest, New York, New Directions, 1978) derived its rhythms and diction partly from the feeling-tone of the dream itself and partly from my waking feelings--rather awestruck--about having dreamed something seemingly from my friend's point of view rather than my own, almost as if I had dreamed his dream.

--Denise Levertov in Night Errands: How Poets Use Dreams (ed. Robert Townley, University of Pittsburgh Press 1998)


A very Jungian dream? No coincidence! Levertov had read Jung and done Jungian analysis. Nor am I startled that she might dream from another's viewpoint across the gender gap; at this point she had many years' experience in sharing dreams with her partners on waking; "not that, as some have done, we dreamed the same dream or answered dream with dream."

My point? Dream-power's like musical skill; yes, talents vary, but some of it's sheer attention and practice. There are geniuses quite out of touch with their dreams. And as with music, the style you study is likely to take over! Levertov studied Jung; she has archetypal dreams. Study Native American mysticism and you'll have animal powers shaking you out of your body. Study Freud and you'll have Freudian dreams (you may regret this).

Similarly, it's easy to assume your own dream style is the whole of dreaming. Levertov is unusual in grasping that others may dream differently ("some...have...dreamed the same or answered dream with dream.") Her insight has a practical use: if you don't like how you dream, there are a dozen other ways of dreaming out there; try them! You don't have to passively endure dreaming as it seems.

Of course, this isn't really what she means by that profound line, "if he gives light." But I think it's a prerequisite. Shedding monochromatic light (whether Freudian, Jungian, or any other hue) won't illuminate (or nourish) the depths and its dwellers as well as full-spectrum imagination. Breadth is not the enemy of depth, but light in the deep: a light less prone to fail.

LISTS AND LINKS: Jungian dreams - anima, animus, and other dream-guides - dreaming personified - cross-gender dreams - nocturnes - watery dreams - mirrors and reflections - twins and doubles - oops! - light - vision - dream poems - another dreampoem, cave, anima: Her Gestured Route - a dream on monochromatic vs full-spectrum perception: A Golden Key in a Cheap Light - more Denise Levertov dreams -

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