Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Since “A Dream of a Brother” is a dream meditation, it need not conform to the logical conventions of waking reality, and Bly exploits this possibility to the fullest by juxtaposing and drawing together disparate images and allusions. The parallel between the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers is particularly significant for the theme of the poem because Joseph was a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams. In his first stanza Bly alludes both to Joseph’s “coat stained with goat’s blood” and to one of his dreams, in which bundles of his brother’s sheaves bow down to him. Bly counts on his readers being familiar with this biblical story and remembering that, at the end of the story, Joseph is reunited with his father and reconciled with his brothers.

To explore his subject in depth Bly draws heavily on the work of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and on Freud’s student, Carl Jung, another analytical psychologist. Bly draws especially on their detailed studies of dreams and of the ways dreams affect waking life. Jung is perhaps best known for describing what he called the “collective unconscious,” a substratum of the psyche in which universal, timeless, and cross-cultural elements meet and merge. Such a collective deep state of mind (itself a kind of “deep image”) is most clearly evidenced in dreams or dreamlike reveries. Bly’s account of his relationship with his brother—or, in terms of the Jungian trappings in...

(The entire section is 444 words.)