The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Dream of a Brother” consists of twenty lines divided into five unrhymed quatrains written on an iambic pentameter base. That this is a dream poem, or a dreamed meditation, is made immediately clear both by the title and in the first line: “I fall asleep, and dream. . . .” This fact is important structurally and thematically. Bly has said that he began the original version of what finally became this poem by imagining his own childhood as having been made up of two individual personalities, “one of whom had betrayed the other.” It is, therefore, not surprising that the poem begins with another instance of betrayal by alluding to the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers. In the first stanza the speaker dreams that he shows his father a “coat stained with goat’s blood,” a clear reference to the biblical story. In the second stanza, he says, “I sent my brother away.” Having banished his brother, as Joseph’s brothers did him, the speaker enfolds the biblical allusions into a quintessentially American context: “I heard he wastaken in by traveling Sioux.”

There is a strong break after the third stanza. This is not surprising, since the two rather distinct sections of this poem come from two totally different sections in an earlier, much longer, poem entitled “The Shadow Goes Away,” published in Sleepers Joining Hands (1973). Although in the two final stanzas Bly merges the times and places he has alluded to...

(The entire section is 478 words.)