The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Dream Horse” is a short poem in free verse; its thirty-six lines are divided into six stanzas of varying lengths. The title suggests that the poem concerns itself with the agency of dreams. On reading this difficult poem for the first time, the reader’s impression almost certainly will be that the poem incorporates dreamlike images to further its examination of reality and the imaginative world as well as the ideas of disintegration and regeneration.

The first stanza begins with the speaker referring to his own reflection, his “looking-glass image.” The speaker’s narcissistic vision of himself, “with its passion for papers and cinemas, days of the week,” is an illusion, a simple reflection in a mirror. His isolation is evident as he peers into this mirror to gain a sense of wholeness and self-esteem in an otherwise hellish life. The speaker refers to his “hell’s captain” and says that he will write “the clauses, equivocally sad,” that will trigger a variety of emotions.

The attention of the speaker is directed toward his daily life as he “drifts between this point and that,” searching for the words that will lend some order to his depressing existence. He absorbs the words of the common people around him with a self-exorcising attentiveness, hoping to find relief from his meaningless routine. A note of surprise is added when the speaker states that the advice he hears might be “glacial and deadly.” Apparently, his life allows no other choice. The speaker likens his predicament...

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The power of dreaming permeates Pablo Neruda’s “Dream Horse.” The very nature of the dream state connects the speaker and the reader to the world of imagination. Poetry is dependent on imagination and frequently assumes dreamlike qualities. Throughout the poem, the reader is presented with the rather ambiguous dreamworld of the speaker. The reader is likely to interpret the speaker’s visions in an orderly and meaningful way, yet the imagination can be unpredictable as well as unfathomable. Night, which is typically feared, becomes an ally and offers endless possibilities. The speaker cannot harness his vision, but he attempts to present it in poetic lines for consideration. The actual structure of the poem represents a fragment of a dream vision that does not invite closure but encourages an evolving interpretation.

Imagery plays an important role in the poem. The speaker’s creative self becomes his “hell’s captain.” The everyday advice that the speaker must patch together comes from “the nests of tailors.” Rainbows become “credulous carpets,” violets “drowse,” and dawn is likened to “red horses.” The free use of personification and metaphor, and the unusual juxtaposition of words fit nicely into the speaker’s dreamworld, where the unusual becomes accepted if not ordinary.

The use of enjambment adds to the natural flow of the speaker’s dream state. Dreaming resists absolutes; parameters and definition give way to flexibility. The reader is pulled from one image to the next, sometimes without break. The fluidity of the lines and their images enhances the freedom the speaker finds in his creative world.

At the conclusion of the poem, the speaker mounts his red horse and soars above the world, an allusion to Pegasus, the mythical winged horse that also represents poetic inspiration. As the speaker joyfully flies, the reader senses his momentary exaltation. The fact that the speaker has experienced something that is beyond the reach of most people is apparent as he claims that with this power he will create work that will give him his rightful inheritance. This statement ties “Dream Horse” to other poems, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” that deal with the function of imagination, multiple realities, immortality, the creative vision, and the power of poetry.