Love, if I weep it will not matter,
And if you laugh I shall not care;
Foolish am I to think about it,
But it is good to feel you there.
Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, —
White and awful the moonlight reached
Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
There was a shutter loose, —it screeched!
Swung in the wind, — and no wind blowing! —
I was afraid, and turned to you,
Put out my hand to you for comfort, —
And you were gone! Cold, cold as dew,
Under my hand the moonlight lay!
Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
But if I weep it will not matter, —
Ah, it is good to feel you there!
—Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 – 1950
Dreams and nightmares are powerful things; our subconsciousnesses are attuned with many of our deepest hopes and fears. In “The Dream,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the speaker addresses his or her lover, retelling a dream, or rather nightmare, he or she had, where the speaker’s love disappeared, leaving behind only harsh moonlight.
The dream is more akin to a nightmare, despite the title. The moonlight is given a menacing, “awful,” personification (line 6), and the loose shutter “screeched” (line 8). The shutter also ominously swung on its own, absent any wind. Perhaps if the speaker was awake, they would not have cared, but here they describe themselves as “afraid” (line 10). This marks when they discovered their love missing and missing for some time.
The last stanza mirrors the first, with a refrain of “Love, if you laugh I shall not care, / But if I weep it will not matter, — / Ah, it is good to feel you there!” (lines 13-16). The repetition underscores the speaker’s relief at waking—actually waking—and finding nothing amiss.
“The Dream” evokes the familiar relief that a nightmare was just that—a nightmare. It carries an almost giddy, joyous feeling with the realization that all is well. And, in turn, reality becomes the dream.