Today’s lucid dreaming fad, spurred by hollywood movies and by smartphone apps, might have interesting links with British romantic poetry (and not only with Coleridge’s Kubla Khan). For one thing, there’s the cue words “methought” and “seem’d” that one stumbles upon, not only in Wordsworth’s Prelude but in Keats’ Hyperion poems – medieval conventions that signal a dream-vision. For example, immediately after the first 18 or so lines of the first stanza of pure magic in Keats’s “The Fall of Hyperion: a Vision,” the second stanza begins

Methought I stood where trees of every clime…

The dream poet appears, spontaneously, in a natural fane (which Keats’s “Ode to Psyche,” with its famous “wreath’d trellis of a working brain,” a phrase that works as a metaphor for poetry itself, suggesting that bliss or paradise is located in the brain’s ecological, organic, neural interconnectedness) – a kind of garden of Eden that could only exist in and as the cognitive hyperreality of a dream – or maybe nowadays in a 3D virtual world.

Thus, the location of this whole experience is in the temple of cognition, into which one must enter ever more deeply, as through initiatory gates, if one would enter the state of poetic attention, a state of pliancy and bliss that directly experiences not just reified concepts about the mundane world of subject and objects, but a far more valid, subtle, vital current of interrelationship or interdependence.

There, spread before a “wreathed doorway, on a mound/Of moss,” he sees a “feast of summer fruits/Which nearer seen, seem’d refuse of a meal/By angel tasted or our Mother Eve” (29-30). After eating the delicious fruit, he thirsts, and

thereby/Stood a cool vessel of transparent juice

Sipp’d by the wander’d bee, the which I took,

And pledging all the mortals of the world,

And all the dead whose names are in our lips,

Drank. That full draught is parent of my theme.

It would be hard to miss the Coleridgean nature of this moment, but in case we do Keats’ very next reference is to the “Asian poppy or elixir fine” (47). Crazily, the dream poet drinks an opium-like elixir in the paradisiacal garden, and is transported (Inception-like) into an even deeper level of dream, from the “mossy mound and arbour” to “an old sanctuary, with roof august/Builded so high, it seem’d that filmed clouds/Might spread beneath as o’er the stars of heaven/So old the place was, I rememeber’d none/The like upon on the earth…” (60-66). In ”that eternal domed monument,” to which not only manmade ruins but the rock ruins of nature “Seem’d but the faulture of decrepit things,” the dream poet (in four-direction symbolism that rivals Blake’s) discovers to the west “An image, huge of feature as a cloud” above an altar, to be reached by climbing a stair with “marble balustrade.” As he approaches nearer, he sees someone ministering to the shrine, lighting a flame or “lofty sacrificial fire” that “Sending forth Maian incense, spread around/Forgetfulness of everything but bliss” (102-4).

After a painful struggle to prove himself, through self-mastery, more than dust (a bit like the Gom Jabar scene in Dune, a very Hyperion-esque novel with its themes of apotheosis and awareness of suffering, and its famous mottos “Fear is the mind killer” and “The dreamer must awake”), rescuing himself from turning to numb ice by letting out a shriek, he makes it to the lowest stair. (One could read this as an allegory of the poet striving against mortality via self-discipline, resisting the reduction to mere dust that would prevent him from producing enduring artwork). His reward is to confront the “Holy Power” or “High Prophetess,” Moneta (picked up as a character by Dan Simmons in Hyperion), the ”veiled shadow” and “sole priestess” that ministers to the altar of a fallen Saturn, who makes the terribly famous comparison of poets and dreamers.

[Speaking of science fiction, Frank Herbert’s Dune, possibly the most purchased sci fi novel of all time, was (in addition to a prophetic eco-political novel about global oil and jihad) a political allegory about the children of the counter-cultural 60s: raised by the 1950s corporate elite, ready to take the reins of power, but pulled into an awareness of the commercial aspects of war, and thus into mind blowing apocalyptic vision and substance abuse that ruins their innocence. They gaze futurity full in the face and see the calamity of posthuman globalization.  Behind the aesthetics of the Hyperion poems, too, there’s a kind of material politics, dramatizing the shift of worlds from the old gods (the titans) to the new, young gods – or shift from an aristocratic, autocratic, landed society to a more democratic, bourgeois, industrial society.]

Moneta tells him that he is “a dreaming thing/A fever of thyself” – and that only dreamers lack a haven in the world, while all other creatures can separate work from rest, pain from joy: “Only the dreamer venoms all his days/Bearing more woe than all his sins deserve.” Thus, only dreamers are “admitted oft/Into like gardens thou didst pass erewhile/And suffer’d in these temples” so “that happiness be somewhat shared.”

This is where the poem is, perhaps, deepest.

The dream poet expresses his gratitude for this reward, announcing “In sickness not ignoble, I rejoice,” but nevertheless expresses his confusion as to what sort of creature he is, for he does not think he is a poet.

…’If it please

Majestic shadow, tell me: sure not all

Those melodies sung into the world’s ear

Are useless: sure a poet is a sage;

A humanist, physician to all men.

That I am none I feel, as vultures feel

They are no birds when eagles are abroad.

What am I then: Thous spakest of my tribe:

What tribe?…

Earnestly, the tall shade Moneta answers:

Art though not of the dreamer tribe?

The poet and the dreamer are distinct,

Diverse, sheer opposite, antipodes.

The one pours out a balm upon the world,

The other vexes it….

Here, shouting, involuntarily, an invocation to “Apollo! faded! O far flown Apollo!”, he launches into an invective against false, conventional poets (“mock lyricists, large self worshippers/And careles hectorers in proud bad verse”). Clearly, he does not accept Moneta’s definition of a poet as someone who soothes and mollifies the increasingly bourgeois, commercialized people who “find a haven in the world/Where they may thoughtles sleep away their days” (149-150). So, what’s the purpose of this sick dreamer who has no home or refuge, but lives in pain, and is thus granted dream visions (of paradise-gardens and divine temples) as a compensation for his misery, something to keep him mildly content?

The dream poet has already told us, in his first question to Moneta. She has just informed him, upon his arrival, that none can “usurp” that high altar “But those to whom the miseries of the world/Are misery, and will not let them rest”. The dream poet is, understandably, surprised to realize he’s the only one there!

‘Are there not thousands in the world,’ said I,

Encouraged by the sooth voice of the shade,

‘Who love their fellows even to the death,

Who feel the giant agony of the world,

And more, like slaves to poor humanity,

Labour for mortal good?’ I sure should see

Other men here, but I am here alone.’

So think about that after you buy your lucid dreaming app. The point, after all, for lucid dreaming in Tibetan Buddhism was not another form of entertainment, nor the acquisition of power over one’s mind (a shortcut to success and gratification); the point was the opporunity to generate bodhichitta (or infinite altruism) in a state of mind more pliable or flexible (less reifying) than waking consciousness. To do so is, perhaps, to directly transform one’s deep selfishness and sickness ignoble; to reconfigure one’s most subtle patterns of thought, habit, and belief; to realize compassion as an underlying drive of the unconscious, and almost as a new instinct – rather than pay self-conscious lip service to compassion.

The next time you find yourself lucid dreaming in a paradise garden, with a picnic of forbidden fruit and elixir spread out before you, know what you’re getting into, and seek the spiritual-poetic wavelength.  As Blake put it in the opening lines of Jerusalem, “Awake! awake O sleeper of the land of shadows, wake! expand!/I in you and you in me, mutual in love divine.”