The Poem

“Dreaming in Daylight” is a poem in free verse; its forty-one lines are divided into twenty unrhymed couplets plus one final, single-line phrase. The title suggests the contradictory images of darkness and light and of nighttime dreaming (in which intuition and emotion have full play) and daydreaming (which connotes rational meditation). Written from the second-person singular point of view, the poem’s only implied persona is poet Robert Penn Warren, who is also the speaker of the poem. Addressing himself as “you,” he recounts to the reader personal experiences grounded in a familiar activity: a mountain climb.

In the first two stanzas, the climber energetically clambers up rocks, through thickets, and over brooks. Stopping for breath, he quotes some verse and then perceives—in the next three stanzas—that “Small eyes, or larger, with glitter in darkness, are watching” from stone crevices, leaf shadows, and hollow logs. To the climber, the eyes of nature are “like conscience . . ./ Like remorse” judging him as an outsider who does not belong. The speaker’s interpretation of a watchful nature prepares the reader for the next fourteen lines. Falling into meditation about self, he complains of feeling a mysterious, internal, and physical unease that sparks a concern about his own identity: “Do you/ Know your own name?” Questioning himself as he questions the reader, the poet describes the sea below as a “heaving ocean of...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Forms and Devices

References to nature abound in Warren’s poems, providing him with much of his inspiration and imagery, and “Dreaming in Daylight” is no exception. The mountain landscape seen by the climber at first presents friendly, explicit images: rocks, thickets, brooks, birches, crevices, and leaves. Yet these become implicit images of isolation and estrangement such as the “stern rock, majestic and snagged” that is a “sky-bare” peak where frost has destroyed any vegetation. They also become images of alienation: glittering, reproachful eyes peering from a “rotted-out log, from earth-aperture,” metaphors for conscience or remorse that imply that the climber does not belong on the mountain. Below the mountain is a “beach of/ History” and a sea of the past from which the climber is seeking to escape by moving higher. Both serve as metaphors for the poet’s concern with related issues of self-identity. Such imagery clarifies Warren’s less-than-sanguine attitude toward nature. In his introduction to Joseph Conrad’s novel Nostromo (1904), Warren observes that “man is precariously balanced in his humanity between the black inward abyss of himself and the black outward abyss of nature.” Similar examples of a threatening nature can be found in Warren’s later poems.

The syntax offers a variety of long and short sentences, with many phrases or sentences interrupted at the end of one stanza and completed in the next: “This/ Is the...

(The entire section is 474 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Blotner, Joseph. Robert Penn Warren: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1997.

Bohner, Charles. Robert Penn Warren. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Burt, John. Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Clark, William Bedford, ed. Critical Essays on Robert Penn Warren. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981.

Grimshaw, James A. Understanding Robert Penn Warren. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Justus, James H. The Achievement of Robert Penn Warren. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Madden, David, ed. The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000.

Ruppersburg, Hugh. Robert Penn Warren and the American Imagination. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Szczesiul, Anthony. Racial Politics and Robert Penn Warren’s Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Watkins, Floyd C., John T. Hiers, and Mary Louise Weaks, eds. Talking with Robert Penn Warren. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.