The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Dream of Governors” is the title poem of a five-part collection of twenty-nine poems. This lyric poem is divided into five stanzas, each composed of eight lines. An epigraph borrowed from poet Mark Van Doren provides the source for the poem’s title: “The deepest dream is of mad governors.” The repetitive use of “dream” in the title and the epigraph suggests a common human experience and a basic framework for the poem. Thus the events occur in a dreamworld in which deeply hidden and subjective thoughts, experiences, wishes, and inner truths surface briefly into consciousness before returning to oblivion. The poem is written in the third person from the standpoint of an objective observer who sees, hears, and feels everything the sleeper does in the dream episode. “A Dream of Governors” also uses the familiar childhood memory of reading or listening to fairy tales. Thus, the first stanza introduces characters and plot suggestive of a typical fantasy. The cast includes a knight and his lady, a dragon, a witch, and a chorus. In this scenario, the knight relives stereotypical plot actions. As a young knight, he travels from far away and accepts the supreme task of combating the city’s local enemy, a dragon. After slaying the monster and routing the witch, the brave hero returns and receives his rewards. Crowned king, he marries the lady and plans to live happily ever after.

The second stanza presents emphatic contradictions. All is not...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As in his other early poems, Louis Simpson follows the formal rules for regular stanzas, meters, and rhyme in “A Dream of Governors.” However, he combines these conventional elements with imaginative images, metaphors, and symbols. Simpson’s often-repeated poetic objective, stated in the final chapter of his book Ships Going into the Blue: Essays and Notes on Poetry (1994), is drawn from Joseph Conrad’s preface to his novel The Nigger of the “Narcissus” (1897): “My task which I am trying to achieve isto make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.” Simpson uses traditional rhymed stanzas (ababcdcd) and iambic meters (an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable representing an emphatic rhythm of sound). Such a tightly controlled, conventional form provides a practical, objective base for launching imaginative, subjective, and emotional imagery or metaphors. Any unusual metaphoric or symbolic content in such a synthesis becomes much more believable and acceptable when wrapped in commonplace formulas.

The central metaphor suggests the implicit analogy between two ostensibly different things: dreams and fairy tales. In his article “Dead Horses and Live Issues” (A Company of Poets, 1981), Simpson, describing poetic creation, states, “The images are connected in a dream; and the deeper the dream, the stronger, the more logical, are the connections.” Both...

(The entire section is 548 words.)