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The Dream of Fame by Lewis Carroll


"The Dream of Fame" is a poem by Carroll that was later revised and retitled as "The Three Sunsets". This is one of Carroll's more serious works; however, it is often seen as unsatisfactory, uneven, and weak. It is unknown as exactly what the author meant by the writing.

This poem is written as eighteen stanzas with six lines in each. Each line is written in iambic tetrameter (two feet with four meters). It has the rhyme scheme of ABACBC.


The Dream of Fame

He saw her once, and in the glance,
A moment's glance of meeting eyes,
His heart stood still in sudden trance,
He trembled with a sweet surprise-
As one that caught through opening skies
A distant gleam of Paradise.

That summer eve his heart was light,
With lighter step he trod the ground,
And life was fairer in his sight,
And music was in every sound.
He blessed the world where there could be
So beautiful a thing as she.

But days went by - he found her not;
And years rolled on - she never came;
Though ever round the fatal spot
A mocking whisper of her name
In hollow whispers seemed to roll
Through the dark chambers of his soul.

From land to land he sought her face;
To him were neither night nor day;
The phantom he was doomed to chase
Still glided from his touch away;
And life that once had been so bright
Seemed but a dream of yesternight.

So after many years he came
A wanderer from a distant shore:
The street, the house, were still the same,
But those he sought were there no more;
His burning words, his hopes and fears,
Unheeded, fell on alien ears.

Only the children from their play
Would pause the mournful tale to hear,
Shrinking in half-alarm away,
Or step by step would venture near,
To touch with timid curious hands
That strange wild man from other lands.

He sat beside the busy street
There, where he last had seen her face;
And thronging memories, bitter-sweet
Seemed yet to haunt the ancient place :
Her footfall ever floated near:
Her voice was ever in his ear.

He sometimes as the daylight waned
And evening mists began to roll
In half soliloquy complained
Of that black shadow in his soul
And blindly fanned with cruel care
The ashes of a vain despair.

The summer fled; the lonely man
Still lingered out the lessening days;
Still as the night drew on, would scan
Each passing face with closer gaze,
Till sick at heart he turned away,
And sighed, "She will not come today".

So by degrees his spirit bent
To mock its own despairing cry,
In stern self-torture to invent
New luxuries of agony,
And people all the vacant space
With visions of her perfect face:

That perfect face whose smile to own
Men dare to live and fools to die,
Dearer than wealth or power or throne,
Sweeter than sweetest harmony:
That oftenest cheers their lonely lot
Who live their life and heed it not.

Sometimes he felt that she was nigh;
He heard no step, but she was there;
As if an angel suddenly
Were bodied from the viewless air,
And all her fine ethereal frame
Should fade as swiftly as it came.

So half in Fancy's sunny trance,
And half in Misery's aching void,
With set and stony countenance
His bitter being he enjoyed,
And thrust for ever from his mind
The happiness he could not find.

As when the wretch in lonely room
To selfish death is madly hurled,
The glamour of that fatal fume
Shuts out the wholesome living world -
So all his manhood, strength and pride
One sickly dream had set aside.

And so it chanced once more that she
Came by the old familiar spot;
The face he would have died to see
Bent o'er him, and he knew it not;
Too rapt in selfish grief to hear,
Even when happiness was near.

And pity filled her gentle breast
For him that would not stir nor speak;
The dying crimson of the West
That faintly tinged his haggard cheek,
Fell on her as she stood, and shed
A glory round the patient head.

Ah, let him wake! The moments fly;
This awful tryst may be the last;
And see, the tear that dimmed her eye
Had fallen on him e'er she passed -
She passed: the crimson paled to grey
And hope departed with the day.

The heavy hours of night went by,
And silence quickened into sound,
And light slid up the eastern sky,
And life began its daily round.
But light and life for him were fled:
His name was numbered with the dead.

Next: Faces in the Fire
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