Once a dream did weave a shade
O’er my Angel-guarded bed,
That an emmet lost its way
Where on grass methought I lay.
Troubled, ‘wildered, and forlorn,
Dark, benighted, travel-worn,
Over many a tangled spray,
All heart-broke I heard her say:
“Oh, my children! do they cry?
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see:
Now return and weep for me.”
Pitying, I dropped a tear;
But I saw a glow-worm near,
Who replied: “What wailing wight
Calls the watchman of the night?
“I am set to light the ground,
While the beetle goes his round;
Follow now the beetle’s hum;
Little wanderer, hie thee home.”
Central theme of the poem:
‘A Dream’ is one of the most intelligible and coherent pieces of William Blake. It contains a miniature world of animals who are mutually helpful, sympathetic, and amicable. But there is not the sunny meadow of ‘the Echoing Green.’ Instead, we happen to meet the wailing mother ant, anxious children, and the compassionate dreamer. It is a point to be underscored that the ant is not the ant we see in the post-diluvial world of violence. There, in the world of Blake, though sketched up by dream, they assume a human body and speak like all human beings. Dereliction of duty is something unheard of in that imaginary land. The boy dreams of an ant who is in search of her lost children. She is lost and thinks of her distressed husband groaning sadly. The dreaming boy naturally sheds a tear of pity. His innocent heart is not capable of standing the grief of the mother ant which also is innocent. Then the poem takes a turn and the mother ant who is forlorn and caught in the night is met by the glow-worm whose duty is to keep everybody in perfect happiness. He has also the duty to shedding light on the ground when it is dark. He is in short the watchman of the night. Another inhabitant of the ‘dreamland’ is the beetle that goes on his round of humming. The glow-worm asks the emmet to go back home following the beetle’s hum.
The Speaker as a Sympathiser :
The little boy is presumably the speaker who projects the incidents of his dream. His dreams are simple and pertaining to those which a child habitually sees in his sleep. The sympathetic tear that the child sheds when he beholds the dejected emmet proclaims his compassion towards even the meanest creatures on earth. The emmet is troubled, embarrassed, confused, and caught in the snare of night. It is weeping over its lost children and it is anxious about its husband. The boy who sympathizes with the ant is suggestively not one who jostles and jumps happily through meadows. He is a dreamer.
Divinity in Insects :
The meanest creatures of the earth such as ants and glow-worms and beetles are endowed with divine virtues and they do what they are appointed to do. The dreamer at night is well guarded by the angel; the glow-worm is in a way another angel that sheds light and guides the ant. The glow-worm can be deemed as a natural equivalent to the angels that wander in ‘Night’. Light has close associations with God since ‘light’ is God. The beetle also helps the ant in its own way. By humming and leading the way, it can help the ant reach its lost children.
The poem can be interpreted at the symbolic level. The ant is the lost soul being led by light to its “home” which could be equated with God.
Also read: Summary and critical appreciation of ‘A Shepherd’ by William Blake
Also read: Summary and Critical appreciation of ‘Holy Thursday’ by William Blake