Dream is a second life. – Nerval

It has been over a decade since I personally realized how great a role dreams play not only as representations of our waking life but also strongly influence it. My dreams are mostly vivid and some like this early morning’s are so honestly wishful, coherent and powerful that I owe my mood to them, at least for the rest of the day.

Among Freud and others, Gérard de Nerval, the French poet, essayist and surreal chronicler has given dreams the attention they deserve. Walter Kaufmann suspected that we spend so much of our creative energy in dreams that we wake up dull the next day. I neither feel like disputing this thought-provoking idea (which makes me wonder if less REM sleep could mean more creative connections during the day) nor boring you with my wonderful dream which may have a life of its own and made my day, but may not mean anything to others who would have commensurate dreams of their own, and I don’t discount nightmares either, but I want to share a few words by Nerval, whose magnificent novella Sylvie directly influenced Marcel Proust‘s In Search of Lost Time.

Nerval begins his Aurélia,

“Dream is a second life. I have never been able to cross through those gates of ivory or horn which separate us from the invisible world without a sense of dread.”

and writes a little further on (I found this passage fascinatingly unusual),

Gérard de Nerval (1808 – 1855) was the nom-de-plume of the French poet, essayist and translator Gérard Labrunie.

“Meanwhile night was gradually falling and the sights, sounds and sensations of the place were becoming blurred to my slumbering mind. I thought I was sinking into an abyss which cut through the globe. I felt myself being buoyed along by a current of molten metal; a thousand similar streams whose hues varied with their chemical compositions were criss-crossing the earth like the vessels or veins that wind through the lobes of the brain. From the pulse and flux of their circulation, I gathered these streams were made up of living beings in a molecular state, which only the speed at which I was traveling made it impossible to distinguish. A whitish light was filtering into these channels, and at last I saw a new horizon open up like a huge dome dotted with islands washed by luminous waves. I found myself on a coast lit by a light not of the sun and saw an old man who was cultivating the soil. I recognized him as the same man who had spoken to me through the voice of the bird, and whether it was his words or my inner intuition of them, it became evident to me that our ancestors assumed the shape of certain animals in order to visit us on earth and take part in the various phases of our existence as silent observers.”

Translated by Richard Sieburth for Penguin Classics

2 thoughts on “Dream is a second life. – Nerval

  1. Denis Meyer

    « Cependant la nuit s’épaississait peu à peu, et les aspects, les sons et le sentiment des lieux se confondaient dans mon esprit somnolent; je crus tomber dans un abîme qui traversait le globe. Je me sentais emporté sans souffrance par un courant de métal fondu, et mille fleuves pareils, dont les teintes indiquaient les différences chimiques, sillonnaient le sein de la terre comme les vaisseaux et les veines qui serpentent parmi les lobes du cerveau. Tous coulaient, circulaient et vibraient ainsi, et j’eus le sentiment que ces courants étaient composés d’âmes vivantes, à l’état moléculaire, que la rapidité de ce voyage m’empêchait seule de distinguer. Une clarté blanchâtre s’infiltrait peu à peu dans ces conduits, et je vis enfin s’élargir, ainsi qu’une vaste coupole, un horizon nouveau où se traçaient des îles entourées de flots lumineux. Je me trouvai sur une côte éclairée de ce jour sans soleil, et je vis un vieillard qui cultivait la terre. Je le reconnus pour le même qui m’avait parlé par la voix de l’oiseau, et soit qu’il me parlât, soit que je le comprisse en moi-même, il devenait clair pour moi que les aïeux prenaient la forme de certains animaux pour nous visiter sur la terre, et qu’ils assistaient ainsi, muets observateurs, aux phases de notre existence. »
    Gérard de Nerval | AURELIA (1855)

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