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.)