The Dream

                                      After Chagall

A man grips a woman by the shoulders
On a bed in the open air, a courtyard
With a wall no taller than their knees stopping
No one from getting in or seeing them there
In the middle of a town blue as the sky,
An anxious overcast blue, both of them clothed,
Both of them solemn and seated, halfway
Between sleeping and walking, love and goodbye.
A man with wings glides towards them with all
The speed a painted angel can muster—
That is he moves not even an inch,
Only wishes to, such the conundrum of dreams,
The dreamer paralyzed as he acts, eyes flitting
Beneath their lids. Why does he embrace her
Like this, poised for something closer but also
To shake her into sense, you don’t ask
Because you know, have found the answer
Still in your head as before you lost consciousness
In one world and regained it in another,
The dream a warning that comes after
Catastrophe, a ripple in the waters of sleep,
A tremor in the voice of breath, visual
Echo, the mind reminding itself. Stubbornness
Disguised as hope, the dream expects the body
To revolt, do something, anything, miracle
As a compost of facts. I want you, he says
To his wife, and the angel never arrives
With the message of ruin, which is ruin
Without the flames, the soul immunizing itself
Through a little grief, the dream one of them
Wearing the wings of time and not arriving
In time, not going back in it, budging
A single second. But in the dream, it’s 1939,
The world about to lie back and die,
Let the Jerusalem of the body fall
For the ten thousandth time, and afterwards
You’ll wake, you’ll dream it hasn’t happened yet,
Hasn’t happened, everything real, everything right.

                                                          —David Moolten

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22 comments
  1. What a great idea to use the painting as your subject…
    From reading your piece I get the feeling of a sad futility, and the end just brought it all into sharper focus. Those last words were devastating.

    • Thanks Cynthia. The funny thing about Chagall is that his work is often uplifting, but underneath, in paintings like this one gets a sense of his own personal fears and grief.

  2. zouxzoux said:

    David, this is incredibly poignant and beautifully executed. “The Dream” is one of my very favorite pieces of art and you have given it a masterful story. Thank you!

    • It’s one of my favorites too. Thanks for your kind feedback.

  3. Therese said:

    Chagall’s Dream painting looks, at first glance, to be non-threatening, but the observer in this poem encounters the painting throuth several biographical and historical vantage points which lend a nightmarish cast to the images. In this poem, you have “gripped” my attention, made me look again at the painting. Your poem teaches me that just like dreams, paintings are not necessarily “everything right.”

    • Hi Therese,

      Thanks for your insightful review. Chagall uses common symbols in many of his paintings, but they can have different connotations depending on the circumstances. He was caught up in the midst of the uprooting of Jews throughout Europe and fearful of what was coming, and in this painting he shows this, intermingled with his usual “effervescence.” Much more melancholy.

  4. There is a great deal of depth here, not just into the painting,but the ‘mechanisms’ of dreaming. Excellent.

  5. Derrick said:

    Hi David,

    This dream is sad and bewildering and inexorable. Nothing we can do will change things. Thank you for illuminating another artwork for me.

    • Thank you Derrick for your kind comments. I really enjoy writing about art.

  6. Back to Chagall! Wonderful!

    I love these lines:

    A man with wings glides towards them with all
    The speed a painted angel can muster—
    That is he doesn’t move an inch, only
    Wishes to, this the conundrum of dreams,

    The way you link the painting of the dream and the dream of the painting to its historical milieu of 1939 is a powerful statement of the impotence of prescience in the face of nascent evil.

    Great poem, David.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your kind praise. I can’t get enough Chagall. He’s one of my favorite painters, if not my outright favorite.

  7. Linda said:

    This was the perfect choice for this dream poem posting the day after November 11th, Remembrance Day. Are the “dreams we have in our beds” our only hope for peace? Even there, peace never quite arrives does it? And the supposition that “nothing has changed” only lasts until the guns turn up on your doorstep. I enjoyed your interpretation of Chagall’s painting. It reminded me the sky is still a “terrifying overcast blue”. Do you have any titanium white and a good brush? Excellent post, Thank you Dave.

    • Hi Linda,

      I wish I had a brush that would paint things over in a better light. Unfortunately peace remains only a dream. Thanks for your kind remarks.

  8. Irene said:

    it’s 1939,
    The world about to lie back and die,

    David, how you use a bedtime scene with a hovering angel for the tipping point to a dream that the war hasn’t happened is just marvellous.

    • Hi Irene,

      Thank you for your enthusiastic feedback.

  9. Having just seem the Chagall exhibit here in Istanbul with all of its flying men/angels, this poem really grabbed me. Your line, “let the Jerusalem of the body fall” took my breath away!

    • Thank you Tamra,

      I am glad that his work is seen in so many places; it is mostly in the end a hopeful vision that he had, even with paintings like this. Thank you.

  10. Sam said:

    Hey David, just thought I’d let you know that I’ve featured this poem in a little literary round-up at my blog. It’s a really powerful piece.

    • Hi Sam,

      That’s great, thanks for thinking of me.

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