The Tower of the Dream: Part 1 [poem by Charles Harpur]

[Editor: This is part 1 of The Tower of the Dream (1865), by Charles Harpur.]

The Tower of the Dream.

Part I.

How wonderful are dreams! Yet, are they but
(As some suppose) the thin disjoining shades
Of thoughts or feelings long foregone or late,
As recomposed and put in ghostly act,
And strange procession, wildly mixed, and yet
So life-like, though thus composite and wild,
By mimic Fancy; when, alone awake,
And thence unhindered in her mystic craft,
She tracks again the drifts of wearied Thought,
Itself sunk sleepward! Wonderful no less
Are they though this be true; and wondrous more
Is she who in the dark, and stript of sense,
Can claim such sovereignty — the Queen of Art!
For what a cunning painter is she then,
Who hurriedly embodying from the waste
Of things memorial littering life’s dim floor,
The forms and features, manifold and quaint,
That crowd the timeless vistas of a Dream,
Fails never in a stroke; and breathes as well
(With powers that laugh at Scu1pture, — or make good
The fabled influence of Pygmalion’s weird
Devotion to his own creative craft)
A spirit of motion into all her work —
The test of Deity ; — inspiring too
Her phantom creatures with more eloquent tones
Than ever broke in subtle light-like wares
Upon the province of a waking ear.

But are they more? True glimpses oft, though vague,
Derived from some unnavigable sea
Of mystic being, on whose lonely shore
The normal terminates; and where the pent,
Impatient Soul, from its sleep-shrouded crib,
Is sometimes wont to slip, and roam at large,
Like Crusoe, staring forth; or musing, stand
As did the intelligence of Newton once
On the bare beach of time, while the great deep
Of Truth, by Science yet uncharted, loomed
In shoreless width, — illimitably out,
Under the incommunicable sky?

No answer cometh, and as vain is all
Conjecture: they are dreams! but wonderful,
However we may rank them in our lore.
And worthy of some fond record are those states
Of our interior being, though aberrant,
That with so capable a wand can bring
Back to the faded heart, the rosy flush
And sweetness of a long fled love, or touch
The eyes of an old enmity with tears
Of a yet older friendship; or restore
A world-lost mate, or reunite in joy
The living and the dead! And this can Dreams:
With more as wonderful ;— can, when so wills
Their wands weird wielder, whatsoe’er it be,
Lift up the fallen — fallen however low!
Rejuvenate the worn, enrich the poor,
The past imparadise, and enchant the present;
Build in the future higher than the hope
Of Power, when boldest, ever dared to soar;
Annul, as with the sanction of the Infinite,
The prison bars of place, the dens of time, —
Giving the rigid and cold clanking chain
Which Force, that grey iniquity, hath clenched
About its captive, to relent, — yea, stretch
Forth into Fairy Land; or melt like wax
In that fierce life whose spirit lightens wide
Round Freedom, seated on his mountain throne!
Or witching Memory, where she darkling lies,
Can so accomplish her that she can make
All brute bulk ocular — the great Earth itself
Diaphanous, like a mighty globe of glass
Hung in the dim Inane, and thence reveal
Some yearned-for hearth at the antipodes,
With all its loves; or spread. at once her wings
O’er all the eras bf a wandering life,
As from the orient to the ends of heaven
The silvery fans of light, evolving, show
All things beneath them in one world-wide act
Instant and universal. — Wonderful!

But not thus always are our dreams benign:
Oft are they miscreations — gloomier worlds,
Crowded tempestuously with Wrongs and Fears,
More ghastly than the Actual ever knew;
And rent with racking noises — such as might,
If audible ever to a soul awake,
Go thundering only through the wastes of Hell.

So wonderful are Dreams: and I here known
Many most wild and strange. And once, long since,
As in the death-like mystery of Sleep
My body lay impalled, my soul arose
And journeyed outward in a dream of wonder,
In the mid hour of a dark night, methought
I roamed the margin of a waveless lake,
That, in the knotted forehead of the land
Deep sunken, like a huge Cyclopean eye,
Lidless and void of speculation, stared
Glassily up, — forever sleepless, — up
At the wide vault of heaven; and and that I had
Also a vague and mystic consciousness
That over against me, on the farther shore,
Which yet I might not see, there stood a Tower
Such as we read of in some old romance.

The darkness darkened, until overhead
Solidly black the starless heaven domed,
And earth was one wide blot; — when, as I looked,
A light swung blazing from the tower (as yet
Prophesied only in imagination,)
And brought at once its rounded structure forth
Out of the mighty gloom, wherein, till then
So shut, it seemed as one in substance with it.
And when this light had steadied, hanging there
Suspended as by magic, I might see
In the wide lake, whose whole disc new first shown,
Glimmered enormous, — the far falling stream
Of its wild radiance, columnar and vast,
Reach quivering — down, like a great shaft of fire,
Through the lit fluid, that, so lightened, seemed
A vague abysm infinitely deep.

Long at that wild light was I gazing held
In speechless wonder — till I thence could feel
A strange and thrillingly attractive power
In gradual operation; and ere long
My bodily weight seemed witched away, and up
I mounted, poised within the passive air;
Then glode ascendingly sheer o’er the lake,
Which far below, as tow’rds the wondrous light
The attraction drew me, I beheld illumined
Even to its sullen depths with shifting beams,
That tangled tower-ward into one broad path
Of multifarious splendour — one red blaze
Yet various, interwrithing, wild and quick,
As every molecule of the watery mass
Had an organic life, and played a part
Restlessly proper to its wayward self,
Though tending all into one glow of bright
Disunion in bright union — one red blaze

Still poised within the soft air, on I slid:
Nor knew I why — but my amaze were off
As thus I glode over the lake, and still
Approached the tower, and that so wondrous light!
And soon, instead, a many-branching warmth
Like the sweet inklings of new love,
Began to tingle in my blood, and so divine
The nearness of some yet unseen Content,
Still nearing, or some yet inaudible Joy,
So great, so reconciling, that it seemed
It was a golden destiny whose spell
Had lifted me aloft, and tower-ward on
Thus richly attracted:— and with this so sweet
Conception — lo, how beautiful a change!

Charles Harpur, The Tower of the Dream, Sydney: Clarson, Shallard, and Co., 1865, pages 3-7

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