I Dreamed That in a City Dark as Paris Analysis

Louis Simpson

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In Louis Simpson’s “I Dreamed That in a City Dark as Paris,” the speaker imagines himself a soldier in Paris during World War I witnessing the bombardment of the city and reflecting upon his relationship to his imaginary soldier, with whom he ultimately feels a shared identity. The poem unfolds as though the reader is viewing a drama filled with the colorful flash of cannons and airplanes buzzing overhead. The speaker describes the scene in details that convey his solitary condition—“I stood alone in a deserted square,” he says—and his emotions are reflected in his description of this night, “trembling with a violet/ Expectancy.”

The second stanza shifts to the speaker’s feelings of forlorn abandonment, highlighted by the “empty city and the empty square..” He feels even more alien to this world because of his uniform, which consists of a “helmet with its vestige of a crest,” along with an overcoat and hobnail boots. The heavy, oversized uniform is a metaphor for the burden of a war that is exploding around him.

The poem develops on two levels at once. It offers itself as the speaker’s dream, which frames the wartime scene in Paris, which in turn becomes the central focus through most of the poem. Although readers see what the speaker describes, they are constantly made aware of the speaker himself: the first two lines of the poem begin, “I dreamed” and “I stood alone,” and in the next stanza, the speaker...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem consists of five stanzas, totaling twenty-nine lines. The second and fourth stanzas are of equal length, six lines each, and the others are irregular in length. One pair of lines in the second stanza and the poem’s final two lines rhyme. The poem’s rhythms are sustained by metrical stresses, essentially five in each of the lines. The absence of a regular rhyme scheme or uniform stanzaic pattern shifts the reader’s focus from these traditional devices to more subtle uses of sound and design, and when rhyme does occur, especially in the final stanza, its effect is enhanced. Simpson also uses repetitive structures generously to give his poem unity and force. The opening repetition of the personal pronoun “I,” for example, places the focus on the central figure, and similar structures in the second stanza add weight to the soldier’s catalog: “The helmet,” “The rifle,” “The belt,” “the trailing overcoat.” The accentual pattern, too, is so subtle that, without end rhymes, the soldier’s narrative has the quality of conversation, as when he reports, “The German Taube and the Nieuport Scout,/ They chased each other tumbling through the sky,/ Till one streamed down on fire to the earth.”

Simpson’s use of stanzaic length also subtly guides the reader’s response. The poem’s central drama, Paris under fire, occupies almost three quarters of the poem, running through the three longest stanzas. Of these,...

(The entire section is 588 words.)