Life is But a Dream Analysis by Lewis Carroll

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This poem analysis of ‘Life is But a Dream’ by Lewis Carroll is divided into three parts – rhyme scheme and rhetorical devices, acrostic, and deeper meaning.


Life is But a Dream Analysis by Lewis Carroll

Rhyme Scheme and Rhetorical Devices: The rhyme scheme followed by Carroll in this poem is very interesting, for all the lines in each stanza rhyme with each other, but not all the stanzas rhyme amongst themselves. In fact, tracing the rhyme scheme of ‘Life is But a Dream’ is quite easy, and the pattern one detects is as follows – AAA BBB AAA CCC BBB AAA DDD.

This poem analysis would be incomplete without mentioning Carroll’s use of inverted sentences and personification in this poem. Carroll often reverses the conventional order of words in the lines of this poem to make them sound both melodious and poignant.

For example, in the first line of the second stanza, instead of saying “Three children that nestle near”, he says “Children three that nestle near”. Similarly, in the third line of the same stanza, he writes “Pleased a simple tale to hear”, instead of “Pleased to hear a simple tale”. More such examples occur in the poem, and can be easily identified by readers.

Personification is used to endow a non-living object with human qualities, and personification is marked by the use of capital letters. In this poem, Carroll personifies the months of July and August. As mentioned in the poem summary, his description of them gives readers the impression that they are two men fighting with each other for supremacy.

Acrostic: This part of the poem explanation focuses on how ‘Life is But a Dream’ can rightly be called an acrostic. An acrostic is a special kind of poem, in which the first letter, or syllable, or word of every line spells out a message when taken together. If we carefully observe this poem, we can figure out that the first letters of each of its twenty-one lines spells out the words “ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL”. This was the full name of the little girl who had inspired Carroll to write his most famous work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. By writing this acrostic, Carroll is in a way acknowledging his debt to this child and thanking her for being his muse.


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Deeper Meaning of Life is But a Dream: This part of the poem explanation focuses on how ‘Life is But a Dream’ may appear to be a simple poem at its surface, but how it hides another level of meaning beneath. Through this poem, Carroll is ruing the brevity of childhood. He remembers Alice and the other Liddell siblings when they were merely children for it was then that he had shared a deep emotional bond with him.

The passing of July into autumn that the poet talks about is a symbol of a child passing into adulthood. Carroll further connects childhood with summer skies, and adulthood with winter frosts, for the emotions of a child are genuinely warm, whereas that of adults towards each other is characterised by coldness. Carried along with the rush of everyday life, adults are alienated from each other.

Unlike in their childhood, when they would spend every summer with Carroll going on lazy boat rides and begging him to tell them stories, the Liddell siblings seem to have forgotten him in their adult lives. They no longer have any time to spend with Carroll, and so the poet regrets this with a heavy heart. He consoles himself at one point saying that other children will come to take the place of the Liddells in his life, and those children will also listen eagerly to the stories he will tell them.

However, such consolation is short-lives, for he comes to realize that those children will also grow up in their turn and leave him behind like the Liddells have. Life itself will pass him by and he will have nothing to hold on to, in the same way that dreams do not leave behind any trace of themselves when the dreamer wakes up. Hope you enjoyed reading Life is But a Dream analysis. Do check out Life is But a Dream summary here if interested.

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