My Dream

Dreams are potent sources of inspiration for writers.  This is not surprising. In Dorothea Brande’s influential book, Becoming a Writer the subconscious is credited with pretty much all creativity. Brande was writing in the 1930s’ when an uncritical approach to Freud was common, but you do not have to be a devotee of psychoanalysis to find the book useful (and it is free online here: or to admit that strange and potentially interesting creative ideas are churning away beyond the conscious mind – or that dreams can be a way to access them.

This theme was suggested by my mother after I told her about a recent dream.  I was in a street in Walthamstow in London where I accidentally knocked over a wooden screen-like object outside a little antique/junk shop (there are no shops in that street).  A thing fell out and got damaged and I picked it up, smoothed it out as much as I could, righted the screen and found this little panel (rather smaller than A4, slotted in to the apex of the wooden thing.

This seemed to be a sort of altarpiece. I envisaged at the back of an alter, against a wall, it’s main purpose to display the picture I had damaged.  But this was no exquisite Ghent altarpiece, the woodwork was quite basic and the wood dried out, cracked and nearly black.

The panel I had damaged seemed to be wood and the painting on it was also quite primitive. It had figures and had been, I knew (how?) painted by a seventeen year old Ethiopian  illiterate shepherdess who had gained a modest reputation for her untutored style.

The shop owner came out and I expected a tirade but he was quite phlegmatic about the accident. Really, very little happened in this dream. What makes it remarkable, even incredible to me is that I dreamed this vivid, quite believable objet d’art without having read about the Ethiopian church or primitive religious painting, without having seen a documentary about such things for years, if ever, without being able to think of any book I had read or TV programme that I might have seen that could have prompted such an image. And anyway (it turns out, I checked) Ethiopian church art can be exquisite and sophisticated. The dream was convincing and credible fiction, but fiction nonetheless.

But even when you can spot where, in waking life, the elements of a dream have come from, no explanation for dreams I have seen credibly explains why they should have a narrative structure.  It is often a surreal story with unlikely or impossible elements barging in. But why do they have a narrative at all, rather than being a stream of random images?

It seems to me that Brande was on to something and that storytelling is something that is so fundamental to us that it is, or at least can be, generated deeper than our modern, conscious minds.

But enough of all that, here is Christina Rossetti dreaming about cannibalistic crocodiles.


by: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) now a curious dream I dreamed last night

Each word whereof is weighed and sifted truth.

I stood beside Euphrates while it swelled

Like overflowing Jordan in its youth:

It waxed and coloured sensibly to sight;

Till out of myriad pregnant waves there welled

Young crocodiles, a gaunt blunt-featured crew,

Fresh-hatched perhaps and daubed with birthday dew.

The rest if I should tell, I fear my friend

My closest friend would deem the facts untrue;

And therefore it were wisely left untold;

Yet if you will, why, hear it to the end.

Each crocodile was girt with massive gold

And polished stones that with their wearers grew:

But one there was who waxed beyond the rest,

Wore kinglier girdle and a kingly crown,

Whilst crowns and orbs and sceptres starred his breast.

All gleamed compact and green with scale on scale,

But special burnishment adorned his mail

And special terror weighed upon his frown;

His punier brethren quaked before his tail,

Broad as a rafter, potent as a flail.

So he grew lord and master of his kin:

But who shall tell the tale of all their woes?

An execrable appetite arose,

He battened on them, crunched, and sucked them in.

He knew no law, he feared no binding law,

But ground them with inexorable jaw:

The luscious fat distilled upon his chin,

Exuded from his nostrils and his eyes,

While still like hungry death he fed his maw;

Till every minor crocodile being dead

And buried too, himself gorged to the full,

He slept with breath oppressed and unstrung claw.

Oh marvel passing strange which next I saw:

In sleep he dwindled to the common size,

And all the empire faded from his coat.

Then from far off a wingèd vessel came,

Swift as a swallow, subtle as a flame:

I know not what it bore of freight or host,

But white it was as an avenging ghost.

It levelled strong Euphrates in its course;

Supreme yet weightless as an idle mote

It seemed to tame the waters without force

Till not a murmur swelled or billow beat:

Lo, as the purple shadow swept the sands,

The prudent crocodile rose on his feet

And shed appropriate tears and wrung his hands.

What can it mean? you ask. I answer not

For meaning, but myself must echo, What?

And tell it as I saw it on the spot.

5 thoughts on “My Dream

  1. 14.11.20
    My Dreams

    I was thinking about this week’s creative theme and the importance of having hopes and dreams for the future and how important having aspirations are in supporting our well-being and recovery.
    In a year that for many has been very bleak and devoid of hope I think having hopes and dreams and things to look forward to becomes even more important.

    For myself one loss I have experienced since Covid lockdown began is my seeming inability to read books. I recognise it is a very small loss but meaningful to me none the less. For me I learnt to read at quite an early age and have been forever grateful of being able to disappear into the wonderful world of books. In normal times I have to ration my reading as I can easily get so absorbed in a good book I can easily forget to eat, sleep and a myriad of dull but necessary daily chores.

    I feel like a lifelong love of books was one of the greatest gifts that my librarian trained Mum bestowed upon me. Providing I have a book on me, made even easier these days with Kindles and kindle app on phones, I can endure lengthy travel delays and any other life ‘hold-ups’ quite easily.

    I was never too bothered about travelling as long as I could escape into the world of books where you can transcend boundaries of place, time etc. I usually have about 4 or 5 different books on the go at any one time. Something light and frothy for reading in places like on my usual daily bus journey, something really gripping and difficult to put down for moments where I don’t have time constraints, a biography or autobiography, a classic from my reading bucket list and I do love a good cookbook or home and lifestyle type read! For me reading is my ultimate escape from reality
    I have been stuck reading the same two books since the start of lockdown. The first a novel by Brian Keenan titled Turlough and the second is Hilary Mantel’s third book in the Wolf Hall trilogy titled The Mirror and The Light. I did manage to progress about a 100 pages through the Hilary Mantel one during a recent hospital stay. However, I kept dozing off mid-read so I’m not sure how much of the plot has ‘gone in’ and fear I may have to read it all again!
    Normally I’m a fairly veracious reader but I have stopped buying any new books for now as my existing reading to-do list is just sitting there making me feel guilty!

    I have been trying to find creative ‘workarounds’ to my current reading ‘block’. I enjoy listening to plays on the radio, watching film versions of some of my favourite books, reading short stories and poetry and have recently invested in a few audio books. Perversely by stopping reading something seems to have been ‘freed up’ to start writing!
    During the Covid-19 season I have frequently found myself drawn back to reading and watching things that are familiar, and a lot of these routed in childhood and adolescence. I guess it’s a natural response and coping strategy to help try and counter-balance all the current uncertainty that Covid-19 brings. I find it comforting to go back to read poems that I’m already familiar with. I also like watching old TV series and films that I have watched before for the same reason, there are no nasty or expected surprises or outcomes. Plus, a lot of them are genuinely really good so it’s nice to have the time to go on a nostalgia fest.

    I am doing my best to keep challenging myself to reach beyond the comfortable and familiar and find listening to the radio useful for helping broaden my horizons. I love reading all the other work shared by members of the Catch 23 writers group. I feel like I’m reaching a happier equilibrium of past and present now in both my music, film and reading habits. There are some days I want a bit of a challenge or to try and see the world through a different pair of eyes. On other days I admit that all I’m good for is watching or reading something obvious and formulaic, sometimes I want to know that the good guys, or gals. are going to win the day or I need to know the ending before I start the journey. I have also enjoyed getting back to the world of comics and graphic novels which I haven’t really bothered with as a genre for a long-time.

    My hope is that as Covid-19 restrictions ease (or we just learn to be more at ease with them) that I will be able to break my current readers block.

    I dream of being somewhere (not really bothered where) outside where it is warm and dry enough to comfortably sit and read a book outside where the wind will not interrupt me by blowing me of cause!

    I also really fancy going on a really long train journey with plenty of time for reading and gazing out the window. I do love watching the wold go by and feel like trains go at a pace of change that I can cope with. I find plane travel, especially long distance plane travel, very discombobulating. Starting off from cold and wet and a few hours later being deposited in a completely different climate and culture.

    I recognise that the post Covid-19 landscape is going to be very different in lots of ways and that plane travel is sadly likely to become a pastime of the rich and famous as it was at its onset. I am grateful that I will be able to continue to escape into the world of books to have a holiday from my own reality anytime I like.
    Author: Rebecca Mahony


  2. Thanks, Rebecca – very interesting. I hope you can get the reading habit back. I have read less than I would have expected under Covid restrictions. I wonder if it is a common phenomenon?



  3. My Dreams

    I do not seem to have nice dreams
    I remember the ones I have in the morning
    The ones that come and then I dose off again
    Often the theme is my being lost
    Some of the town landscape seems familiar
    But then I turn a corner and the familiar has disappeared
    Many people from my family take part
    Often buses appear and I miss them
    Sometimes a young family member
    Gets on a bus and I cannot catch it up

    So it’s town and buses and I get lost or
    Cannot catch up to rescue a young child
    I try not to remember my dreams because
    They disturb me

    Why cannot I have nice dreams
    Dancing singing
    Sunshine and blue skies
    With my family happy enjoying life
    Spending time together

    Should I think about happy times before going to sleep
    But no an Agatha Raisin audiobook does the trick
    I focus on listening to it and suddenly it’s morning

    My dreams are often quirky and weird
    I live in a different universe
    Our parents appear and seem very real

    Apparently our pleasant dreams happen in the middle of the night
    If we do not wake up we do not remember them
    My dreams are not frightening but are not nice
    I wake up towards the morning
    I take my 9 o’clock pill and go back to sleep
    More chance for dreaming but
    I will not remember them later

    Tonight I will go to bed with paper and pen to hand
    To make a note of any dreams
    I will let you know dear reader
    About any dreams tonight

    This morning I dreamed about Polish pierogi dough
    Which is similar to pasta
    In my dream
    My English brother in law had made a huge amount of the dough
    And I was looking for a plastic bag to put it in
    So that it would not dry out
    Meanwhile he had made another large amount
    This had lots of bits in it which we needed to remove
    And I needed to find another bag to stop this one drying out
    Then we were to mix some fillings
    It was the enormous amount that puzzled me
    And the dough was looking quite grey with the mixing

    So another weird dream today
    I am not sure if I can find any meaning in it
    One day I hope to have a really good dream
    Which will make me feel happy

    This morning I had a fairly nice dream
    I was with my younger sister and
    We were looking through all our photographs
    We pointed and laughed at how we used to look
    And that is all the dream was about



  4. Thanks, Urszula. I dream about buses a lot too but in my case I usually catch them. The anxiety is in trying to plot complicated bus journeys with changes on unfamiliar routes in parts of London I don’t know – a legacy of many years getting around London by public transport, I suppose.



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