The road between dreams and reality is one that must be negotiated….
He dreamt of her incessantly, a young woman
wandering through his garden. Her face cameo’d
on the cool, showered dusk. A pallid impression
of something. Something like the thistles and lilies
resigned to bloom as stalks of pain, of pathos
when called by time or inclination. Was it hers or his
that willed them to flower near the gate? Reverie
is never clear They were simply there — nodding
( along with her) for him to enter and follow.
Always the same place. The house with its peaked roof
and open shutters. A candle burning inside. A jug
of water on the bureau, a bed with just her shadow
flung over the mattress, long and angular as the spires
he had seen in Spain. Maiden towers of the church
imprinting canal or street with their dark outline, a sketch
of what they conveyed. The details absent but open
to whatever the wind delivered. A litany of leaves,
petals, saint-lipped whispers…
And in this dream, she kept pleading to return– not rising
from the bones but through the breadth of his stories. His heart
had fallen in love with Europe; and he was about to romanticize its memory
while keeping hers in a box A small portrait with a lock of hair.
And each time the dream ended,
he awoke thirsty, the scent of candle smoke mingling
with a humid sun. His quill on the table. His head aching with rain.
Washington Irving is obviously known for Rip Van Winkle and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow but his talent and breadth of writing extends way beyond that. He took a tour of Europe in his late twenties and fell in love with the landscape and the old architecture of castles and Churches. In particular, he loved the Moorish history and terrain of Northern Spain. He wrote short stories and essays about his travels. Before becoming quite a prolific writer and tourist, he fell in love with a young woman named Matilda Hoffman. She literally become the “love of his life” and they were engaged to be married. She tragically died at 17 of typhoid fever, maybe yellow, and he never got over her death. In a letter to a literary friend, he wrote that he never married or thought of marrying because he dreamed of her incessantly. Upon returning from Europe, he did metaphorically say he had fallen in love with the continent as if it were a woman who had infatuated him, perhaps that was a reference to his only love, Matilda. Though there is no evidence that she influenced his literary work, her presence was always with him, locked away in his dreams and silent grief. At the end of his life, his inheritors found a beautiful box that contained her portrait, lock of hair and a small scrap of paper with her name written in his own handwriting. I infer in this poem, taking artistic liberty, that she kept haunting him in this dream to be immorialized ( somehow) in his writing