Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

“A Dream of Governors” is a poem about the human condition, about the governors, the rational and irrational desires and ideas that control human actions. In another sense, it is also about poetic vision, about Simpson’s early efforts to demonstrate his way of seeing, feeling, understanding, and transmitting the meaning that he sees in the actions and experiences in people’s lives. By juxtaposing the literal details and interrelationships of ordinary people in unusual patterns (dreams and fairy tales), Simpson shows the outer event as well as the inner truth of the experiences, the hidden reality behind the experiences.

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One of the basic desires controlling human actions is the conscious need for feelings of worth, honor, and self-validation gained from societal approval or rewards for deeds accomplished. The young knight who wants to become a hero by slaying the evil dragon, receiving a king’s crown, and marrying his lady exemplifies this basic desire, the wish fulfillment promised in a dream or fairy tale. Likewise, contemporary people also have the same ambition to overcome their personal, competitive dragons and become successful heroes. They, too, dream that their endeavors will merit constant rewards, honor, and praise. Analogously, both fairy-tale heroes and modern people suffer frustration, rejection, and self-doubt when their valiant efforts are only a distant memory and not a constant presence in society’s mind, and both suffer when either of these instincts for self-worth or self-doubt become an obsession that destroys the balance between rational and irrational thought and actions.

The basic need for keeping balances is another significant controlling force in both the king’s life and in a modern person’s life. In “Dead Horses and Live Issues,” Simpson states that “poetry representsthe total mind, including both reason and unreason.” He exposes the fairy-tale king to the traditional echoing maxims about the ruinous folly of letting extreme behavior or attitudes govern his actions. Simpson presents opposing views and does not sermonize; he lets the character decide what his resultant actions will be. Ultimately, this objectivity is what leads the king back to the battleground. The youthful hero has killed the dragon, but his instinctual fear of it is buried deep within his mind. His mature self-conquest and his control of his irrational instincts and fears allow him to balance the extremes between his rational and irrational thoughts. Therefore, both king and humanity are able to request the restoration of “evil” to balance their lives. Contemporary humans may read the poem and think it is only about the fairy-tale king. Some will see the analogy with human conditions. More likely, readers will see additional levels of meaning. In an interview with Alberta Turner in Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (1977), Simpson states, “If a poet were sure of the exact meaning of his poem it would be a poem with a limited meaning. But I want my poetry to open on the unknown.”

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