Opium and Dreams

One of the most talked about subjects for writers and poets of the Romantic era would definitely be the dreams they had.  Many of the writers of this time were frequent users of opium, which affected their dreams, much like how it affected their lives.  They would go on to write about their opium-induced dreams.  It wasn’t just the messages or symbols that they were interested in.  Romantic writers were amazed by the way these dreams took form and how they looked.  Such vivid and clear dreams were sought after and seen a great inspiration for their writing.  (Hayter, 67)

The dreams of the Romantic writer were not seen as simply as we see dreams.  They were considered as much of a tool to the writer as a pencil or a piece of paper.  Many tried different means to achieve the same results, such as eating raw meat or drinking coffee and alcohol (Hayter, 75).  Those who did not get vivid enough dreams believed their works would not match that of other writers who had more significant dreams.  Of the many Romantic writers, some of the biggest dreamers were Byron, Shelley, de Quincey, and Coleridge.  In Charles Lamb’s “Essays of Elia” he notes the lack of quality in his dreams when compared to others,” There is Coleridge, at his will can conjure up icy domes, and pleasure-houses for Kubla Khan, and Abyssinian maids, and songs of Abora, and caverns where Alph the sacred river runs, to solace his night solitude- where I cannot muster a fiddle” (Hayter, 73).

While there’s plenty of evidence of poets and writers who used opium to achieve these dreams, there were still those who could accomplish creative works just as good without the use of opium.  For example, William Wordsworth completely avoided trying opium his whole life, yet still wrote of his magnificent dreams.  He believed that dreams were real and the things he saw and learned in them were connected to his waking life.  (Hayter, 81)

The dreams of many Romantic writers and poets during this time were significant sources for their works.  They used their dreams as mechanisms to carry their stories.  While there were those who stood opposed to opium and achieved the same result without it, it is clear that opium played a massive role in the creative workings of many writers’ minds.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.

(Via) Alethea Hayter “Opium and the Romantic Imagination: Addiction and Creativity in De Quincey, Coleridge, and others.”


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