The three stanzas included in Virginia Lucas’s Scrapbook of the poem “I Walk in Dreams of Poetry” by Catherine Warfield are from a hymn in which the speaker is able to express herself and view the world through poetry, but no one around her understands poetry or her. The speaker expresses the isolation and loneliness that she feels due to her gift of poetry that no one else around her understands. The speaker longs to be understood and appreciated in the way she feels about poetry. She uses poetry as a way to cope with being misunderstood while also recognizing how fortunate she is to have poetry to lean on and to express herself. This is the struggle for the speaker that lasts throughout the poem. Much of Warfield’s nineteenth-century writing is notable for its depiction of long-suffering women who overcome their various situations (Mendiola, 2000). Though the speaker’s situation is not completely revealed in these three stanzas, her desire for something more from the people around her than what she is currently experiencing and her attempt to appreciate the poetic gift she has been given is evident.
The poem, in its entirety, is a hymn. This fits the topic of the poem very well since Warfield is talking about dreams and this poem is written almost like a lullaby with infrequent shifts in the form or meter, with a few, meaningful exceptions. The poem primarily has iambic metrical feet throughout and alternates between tetrameter and trimeter, with the exception of a couple of lines that do not greatly alter the overall rhythm of the poem, but are placed there for a specific reason that enhances the theme. This makes it very easy to follow, almost like a dream, and Warfield uses a hymn form in order not to disturb the scene she is creating. The hymn also acts as a way to comfort the author and the reader through the set metrical pattern. Warfield creates this sense of comfort by combining painful themes such as feeling alone and not being understood with poetic language used to describe dreams in order to mitigate the feelings that may come along with these difficult themes.
In just the three stanzas provided, the dream of the speaker can be clearly interpreted by the reader. The first stanza begins with the title of the poem, “I walk in dreams of poetry” (line 1), setting up the life of the speaker as something she is walking through with the assistance of poetry. This helps her describe a seeming dream that she cannot yet reach. The stanzas that follow represent the dream of the speaker: “the very air I breathe/ Is filled with visions wild and free,/ That round my spirit wreathe” (lines 2-4). The speaker is referencing the dream of poetry that helps her make it through her everyday life. The dream includes a place where she and everything else around her is wild and free.
The dream that sparked the poem carries the speaker through the coming stanzas. The speaker uses this dream as a way to explain her desire to be understood, but it is something she feels she can only dream about. There is a significant amount of imagery throughout the poem that conveys to the reader exactly how the speaker is feeling about her situation. In the lines, “A shade, a sigh, a floating cloud,/ A low and whispered tone--/ These have a language to my brain,/ A language deep and lone” (lines 5-8) the speaker conveys a poetic message about how her dreams are represented in her everyday life. The speaker finds poetic meaning in the simplest of things that other people do not pay attention to, such as a cloud or a whisper. With this keen sense of poetry that the speaker possesses, she feels alone and misunderstood. Lines 6 and 8 also have an example of “true rhyme,” which is common throughout the poem. The words “tone” and “lone '' have the same stressed vowel sounds, which further adds to the simplicity of the poem. Throughout the three stanzas included by Virginia Lucas in her scrapbook, there is only masculine rhyme, so each rhyming line ends on a single stressed syllable. The use of masculine rhyme as well as frequent true rhyme adds to the overall meaning of the poem by showcasing the speaker’s poetic ability, something that she believes herself to be rather well-versed in compared to those around her.
In the second stanza, Warfield continues to express that the speaker’s connection to poetry is not understood by those around her. The lines “And in my spirit bow/ Unto a lone and distant shrine/ That none around me know” (lines 10-12) show that no one can relate to her or understand her connection to poetry. Her word choice of “lone” and “distant” makes the speaker seem like she really does feel alone, which makes the action of the poem shift in this stanza from the speaker exhibiting her poetry skills by expressing her loneliness to her appreciating how beautiful poetry is, which is something that she feels only she can appreciate. There is also an addition of a slant rhyme in this line sequence, “bow” and “know” (lines 10 & 12), that helps the speaker establish this shift. The slant rhyme is another deliberate example of how the speaker exhibits her knowledge of poetry while still expressing her situation. There is also a significant amount of alliteration in this stanza with lines like “From every heath and hill I bring” (line 13) and “A garland rich and rare” (line 14). These instances of alliteration place an extra emphasis on these lines and alert the reader that Warfield has switched the focus from the speaker’s seeming unhappiness with the people in her life to an appreciation of how beautiful poetry is. This is the heart of the struggle for the speaker between not being understood by the people around her and appreciating her gift of knowing poetry.
The third stanza allows the speaker to confront her feelings about poetry and about the people in her life. She puts into perspective the gift of understanding poetry that she possesses when she calls it, “The gift that can my spirit raise” (line 21). This gift is what sets her apart from the people around her and is the main theme of the poem. Alliteration is again used in this stanza, as in “If it is woe or weal,” (line 18), a line in which the speaker asks the important question of whether her gift is a good or bad thing. It seems that Warfield leads the speaker to the conclusion, at least in this stanza, that her gift of poetry has separated her from a lot of the people in her life. This, in itself, further adds to the struggle of the speaker with regard to how she wants to exist in the world.
The inconsistent rhyme scheme of the poem is important to note when looking at the poem’s meaning. For the first stanza of this poem (as included in the scrapbook), the rhyme scheme is ababcded, but for both of the other stanzas, the rhyme scheme is abcbdefe. The inconsistent rhyme scheme acts as a way for the speaker to express the loneliness that she often feels. By changing the rhyme scheme from stanza to stanza, the speaker is encouraging the reader to recognize the importance of each of her claims as they pertain to how she feels about her situation and those around her. The deeper meaning of the loneliness and isolation throughout the poem is enhanced by the rhyme scheme, but does not depend on it for the reader to understand the theme. The words that do rhyme, however, seem to be very important to the overall meaning of the poem. Rhymes such as “weal” (line 18) and “feel” (line 20) represent the speaker’s important struggle between chasing her dream or being content with the privilege that she believes she has to see things from a poetic perspective. Few can understand the gift of poetry that she has, but not being understood is painful to her and Warfield encourages the reader to pay attention by rhyming these more direct words throughout the stanzas.
Warfield also includes semivowel and mute consonants at the end of many lines. The semivowels help carry one line into the next, as with the word “bow” (line 10). These semivowels, combined with frequent examples of enjambment, help the speaker express the pain she feels by allowing her to carry on her description from line to line. Examples of enjambment can be found all throughout the second stanza, such as in the three lines, “And in my spirit bow/ Unto a lone and distant shrine/ That none around me know” (lines 10-12). This sequence of lines does not include punctuation, so it gives the speaker the chance to elaborate on her thoughts over multiple lines and really express to the reader how alone she feels. The mutes also help break up the poem and give the reader a break, such as with the word “cloud” (line 5). In line 5, the mute allows the reader to take a breath. This helps the content of the poem describe how poetry exists to the speaker and how this is different from how it exists to everyone else. There are also end-stopped lines: every stanza ends with a period, expressing a complete thought. This helps separate the speaker’s different thoughts about loneliness and poetry and distinguishes between elements of her struggle.
There only seem to be two instances in the three stanzas provided that could be considered exceptions to the meter. Interestingly enough, these lines are both in the third stanza, providing even more emphasis on the potential meaning in what is otherwise a pure metrical poem. The first line is “Fountains so few can feel,” (line 20) which is not purely iambic and seems to be trimeter with a trochee and two iambs. This line reiterates the meaning of the poem because it references how the speaker experiences a relationship with poetry that she feels so many of the people around her cannot. This leads to her feeling like she is not understood and makes her evaluate how she looks at the world compared to everyone else. The other line that is an arguable exception to the meter is actually the last line of the poem: “And many a heart I love” (line 24). This line is also not purely iambic trimeter because it has an iamb, an anapest, and another iamb. Both of these lines are isolated from the metrical pattern of the rest of the poem, further matching the overall theme of loneliness throughout the poem. Warfield may have broken the pattern with this line because it also touches on a deeper meaning behind the speaker’s gift of understanding poetry and how it separates her from other people, including those she loves.
The repetition throughout this poem of the title “I Walk in Dreams of Poetry” really seems to reinforce the true message that Warfield is trying to express which is that the speaker is able to express herself and view the world through poetry, but no one around her understands her. The speaker has a dream of being understood and potentially getting out of whatever situation she might be in. She leans on poetry to walk her through her dream and comfort her throughout life while she also takes pride in her ability to understand poetry. Warfield uses the repetition of the title as a way to drive the meaning of the poem home and express the speaker’s feelings.
Mendiola, Kelly Willis. “Warfield, Catherine Ann Ware (1816-1877), Poet and Novelist.” American National Biography, Feb. 2000, https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1601717?rskey=PJ5QxA&result=1.