Category Archives: Jozef Israëls

Her sweet Weight on my Heart a Night

Dolce Far Niente, 19th century, Jozef Israëls
Background Image: Dolce Far Niente, 19th century, Jozef Israëls

I love the idea that even dreams have their own reality in that, as Emily believes, they are sent by God which makes them real, in a way. So perhaps that experience we all have when a dream feels so real that we expect it to still be there when we wake up is an experience worth putting more faith in?

Isn’t “Heart a Night” a strange expression? She doesn’t write ‘heart at night’, rather she uses “a”. What I think she might be doing here is playing with how we would scan this phrase. For example, if it was ‘heart at night’ we would read it where the emphasis of each word descends so that ‘heart’ would be highest, ‘at’ would be in the middle, and ‘night’ would rest at the bottom. However, but using “a”, “Night” jumps back up, in fact it almost rises higher than “Heart”. She introduces a surprise, as if she’s been awoken suddenly, perhaps by the dream she’s experienced in this poem and so “Heart a Night” awakens us too with its oddness and makes us sit upright in bed but we are still a little confused in that sleepish state when we re-acclimate to reality.

In fact, this entire first stanza has a quality of an experience that occurred for a very brief moment but then “slipped away”. The speaker was aware of the presence of this “Bride” as if it was real and now sits, perhaps in their bed in the dark in the middle of the night trying to determine if they had experienced a dream, a vision, or something more “solid”.

Emily pushes this sleepish confusion we feel when we are suddenly awake after a dream when she questions if the “Dream” had been real (“made solid”) or, and this is the most fascinating part of the poem, that the dreamer had been dreaming of the speaker. It’s not an unusual experience to wonder if the reality of the universe we experience is just a dream and we are the only real “solid” person, but do we ever consider that we are someone else’s dream, that we are the unreal made real by someone else? That’s a far more disconcerting experience – it’s uncomfortable to even entertain the idea – yet in this sleepish state she is unsure what is real, if she is real, or if reality is real or not. She’s confused and she’s trying to make sense of it.

And her conclusion is fascinating because rather than assume she’d been dreaming and then either go back to sleep or get on with her day while remaining sad what she felt was just a dream, she turns to God and decides that since he “Gave” all things to each of us, that even dream come from God and so, in a way, even dreams are real, they are “A Fiction superseding Faith”. The logic here is quite wonderful because it remains consistent with how we feel when we are still groggy after suddenly waking up from a dream – she’s not following rational logic, she’s able to capture that weird dream logic we feel in the halfway state between sleeping and waking. It’s a remarkable feat she pulls off because how often have we tried to hang onto a dream when we’ve woken up only for it to slip into some recess of our mind that we can’t recover? Emily is able to capture that sensation here, and while her “Bride” may have slipped away, she’s made the “Bride” real as a poem.