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The Angel

dreamed early 1790s by William Blake
I DREAMT a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen,
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe was ne'er beguil'd!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wip'd my tears away,
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart's delight.

So he took his wings and fled;
Then the morn blush'd rosy red;
I dried my tears, & arm'd my fears
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again:
I was arm'd, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.

NOTES

This poem is from Blake's Songs of Experience (1794). Blake is often strange, but always direct; when he says he dreamt he was a young queen full of "witless woe" who couldn't be "beguiled" out of her constant tears... I believe him.

So what can it mean? The dream can be read two ways, depending on how you read "Then the morn blush'd rosy red."

  1. The sun rose and he woke here, to find himself himself--male, older, impoverished--no longer a maiden, no sheltered queen, but a man callused by life. Not so ready to let an angel dry his tears. This is the simpler view... but it's probably wrong. Blake did not literally wake up to find he was an old man; he was in his thirties when he dreamt this. He'd never been either a maiden or a greybeard... awake!
  2. So perhaps he only woke in the dream--false waking isn't rare in experienced dreamworkers, and often happens in shamanic and lucid dreams. In this new level of his dream, he finds his soul has leapt from a young woman's form to an old woman's or man's; from impossible past to his own possible future! But still a dream; still symbolic. His thorniness and deceit have aged him!

Either way, the strangest thing is not Blake's cross-gender identification. In the informal polls I've done, many dreamers find they're the opposite sex at least occasionally; and shifts in sexual orientation are just as common. What strikes me is what Blake as a maiden queen does: cries all the time, gets stroked for it, "and hid from him my heart's delight." Am I perverse for suspecting she's hot for her own guardian angel, but can't yet admit her excitement at his touch? When he sees he's petting not consoling her, he pulls away, alarmed he's been lured close to... soul-incest? (Weird? No weirder than a lot of Blake.) And if this guardian angel is partly her sense of herself as pure, as a soul, then "so he took his wings and fled" makes sense. We stop seeing ourselves as souls, start feeling trapped in flesh. Grounded!

So I think Angel's a gender-bent erotic dream about puberty and first love--but also a sharp spiritual parable. And that's not Blake-awake moralizing, but inherent in the dream. Blake's dreams aren't restricted to recalling his own puberty. Not every man could handle suddenly finding he's a female crybaby with a touchy-feelie male guardian angel who turns him/her on, but remember Blake was a visionary used to identifying with his soul, not the body he so often left. By going through a girl's puberty as well, he gains emotional breadth; he sees outside the gender-blinders of his time and place, and instead looks at wider spiritual issues of puberty. Your blushing, your urge to hide uneasy sexual feelings (from teasing peers or meddling elders alike) can spur you to build emotional armor, or teenage thorniness: "ten thousand spears" sounds about right! That armor, warns Blake, may block spiritual experience--drive off (or blind you to) angels. Including your own.

Blake constantly argued that sexual (and other) repressions are poisonous. Some shame may be inevitable as one moves from innocence to experience--of course you want privacy and time to come to terms with new feelings. Thus, to Blake one of the foulest sins is to mock or harass others' sexual feelings. There's good reason gay-rights advocates quote him:

"Children of the future Age
Reading this indignant page
Know that in a former time
Love! sweet Love! was thought a crime."
But I think this dream goes further, asking: Can we avoid shaming or repressing ourselves? It seems to warn that if we do blush, hide, distort our feelings, a callus of habitual denial can start to stunt our soul-growth in areas beyond sex.

Blake's dream-poem is short; he just poses a riddle. But he's asking deep questions--ones Freud, sure of his ideas on religion, sex and gender alike, could never even frame.



LISTS AND LINKS: gender-bent dreams - age-bent dreams - angels - sadness and grief - truth and lies - privacy - oops! dreams of mistakes - lost opportunities - shells and armor - self-defense - puberty - embarrassment and shame - In contrast: here's a dream-poem from Blake's Songs of Innocence: Lost Ant - dream poems in general -

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