Poetry Review: “The First Dream” by Billy Collins

Trouble with PoetryBilly Collins’ popularity and financial success make him one of those poets it is hard to ignore. The quality of his poetry makes him impossible to forget.

Collin’s poem “The First Dream” is a excellent example of what makes him a great poet: a great idea/moment presented magnificently. There is nothing complex about the form or language and yet it accomplishes much. It dives straight to the heart of the matter… straight to the heart of being human.

It is also a great example of two truisms about poetry that I have written about elsewhere on this blog:

  • poetry is ultimately born in an emotive moment, and
  • all poems are really love poems.

On a beautiful summer day, what could be better than a love poem about dreams.



The First Dream
The Wind is ghosting around the house tonight
and as I lean against the door of sleep
I begin to think about the first person to dream,
how quiet he must have seemed the next morning

as the others stood around the fire
draped in the skins of animals
talking to each other only in vowels,
for this was long before the invention of consonants.

He might have gone off by himself to sit
on a rock and look into the mist of a lake
as he tried to tell himself what had happened,
how he had gone somewhere without going,

how he had put his arms around the neck
of a beast that the others could touch
only after they had killed it with stones,
how he felt its breath on his bare neck.

Then again, the first dream could have come
to a woman, though she would behave,
I suppose, much the same way,
moving off by herself to be alone near water,

except that the curve of her young shoulders
and the tilt of her downcast head
would make her appear to be terribly alone,
and if you were there to notice this,

you might have gone down as the first person
to ever fall in love with the sadness of another.

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