Visionary Poetry 6: Dreams
Dreams are central and pivotal to visionary poetry. Dreams are a rich field of images to mine, and a source of great wisdom and guidance, both in art and in life. I have been keeping a journal since 1981, and a large part of what I write down is dreams. First thing in the morning, upon awakening, before I forget. (The first thing in the morning is often my most inspired writing time, as well.)
There are some kinds of dreams that are more vivid, more present, more liminal, than your average dream that simply recycles daily images, feelings, and events from past experience. In these other kind of dreams, which have been called lucid dreams, you feel completely awake while you know you are dreaming, and you become more aware and alert. Every image and event takes on a symbolic power. This is the unconscious mind talking to us directly, because when we dream we dream with the whole mind, not the conscious mind, which is the interface between us and the waking world, and the thing that goes to sleep when we do. The psychological literature is rich with dream interpretations, but I think it's relevant to make the point that, while some archetypal dream-forms are universal to the human experience, we all still have a personal unconscious, laden with our own personal symbols and imagery, as well as the collective unconscious. Both are in play when we dream; often, the archetypes emerge for us through the personal images, or take them over, as it were, and speak through them.
Another kind of vision is of course the waking-vision. These occur as visions, or experiences of the liminal and numinous while the conscious mind is still present, if not engaged, when we are "awake." Of course, one of the key aspects of many of these visions has always been to point out that we are still asleep, not awake, in our daily lives; we go through life as sleepwlakers, barely awake to the Real, most of the time. That's a common theme to many visionary experiences: waking up to another level of reality (higher or lower is sort of a red herring, and irrelevant—suffice to say, other level of reality, without judging it as higher or lower), in which the Unity of the Divine and the individual person is demonstrated as being One, as present, as actual, as eternal, as unbreakable. Rumi is a great source for poetry along these lines. Rilke is also, if from a very different direction than Rumi comes from.
Dreams have also been shown to lead some visionary scientists to conclusions that later proved to be accurate. I think of the story of the scientist who saw the benzene carbon-ring in a dream, which solved his problem in trying to identify its structure. Einstein said some interesting things about dreams, too, and highly valued the imagination.
Along the lines of shamanic poetry, and of Gary Snyder's idea about his poetry having paleolothic rather than Modern origins, here's a quote or two from Jung about dreams:
The dream has for the primitive an incomparably higher value than it has for the civilized man. The primitive is usually a good deal take up with his dreams; he talks much about them and attributes an extraordinary importance to them. When he talks of his dreams he is frequenlty unable to discriminate between them and actual facts. They are quite real to him. . . . To the civilized man dreams as a rule appear valueless; yet there are some individuals who attribute a high importance to them, at least to paticularly weird or impressive dreams. Such impressive dreams make one understand why the primitive should conceive them as inspirations.
Dreams contain images and thought-associations that we cannot create with conscious intention. They develop spontaneoously without our assistance; hence they represent a mental activity that is withdrawn from voluntary direction. Essentially therefore the dream is a highly objective and, in a sense, natural product of the psyche. Accordingly we might with reason expect form it some indications, or suggestions at least, about the fundamental tendencies of the psychic process. Now, since the psyche is a vital process, hence not merely a final orientation, we might expect that the dream (which presents a kind of self-portrait of the total psychic process) would give us indications about objective causality as well as about objective tendencies.