The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 10 (January 1, 1938.)
“And then the trains that cried at night, the ships
That mourned in fog, the days whose gift was rain.”
— (Conrad Aiken.)
Have you dream places? Where are they—what are they like—who peoples them—do you ever try to tell or write about them? What is your ideal place of dreams? We, surviving souls of the “Thirteenth Clue,” were gathered round, celebrating the conclusion of that co-operative effort in griefless murder and clue-strewn mystery, the Matamata Signal Cabin Story—a tolerant, good-humoured jibe at the prevalent crime-detection tale—a lucky shot in the dark that happened to get home with the public. Some one said, “What about another?” and after the host had complied, the proposer explained he really meant another co-operative competition in the “Railways Magazine.” Brisk bidding on “subjects” followed, and the suggestion that found most favour was “Dream Places.” So here you have the first of the series. Other writers will follow on as the fall of the lot and circumstances decide.
It is not often that one has the chance to go into cold print with an unfettered hand to deal with a subject that is of interest to everyone and yet that crosses no contentious trails—that touches neither economics nor politics, religious predilections nor psychological inhibitions —“Dream Places” that are different for each one of us, but towards which all can be tolerant, intrigued, but undisturbed.
One place of dreams that stays in my mind had its genesis in a bout of typhoid. The fever chart was not looking too good when I fell asleep at the turn of the tide and found myself in a void of great darkness, walking carefully along a powerful linked cable, like those used to draw ships from the sea. But my cable was leading upward on a gradual inclined plane through the fathomless air.
And I thought, “This is a pretty tough test, and I'm no Blondin !” But all the while I felt more excited than fearful.
And then I was conscious of a hint, from someone near who could not be seen, that if I kept my thoughts square, dealing in absolute justice with every affair that crossed my mind. I could keep my balance, walking forward and upward on the almost invisible cable; but if I allowed a thought to deflect to left or right of the line of fairness, then I would take a tumble, a wingless nose-dive, into the vast void of the bottomless abyss.
And just then, away ahead of me, I saw one link of the cable that appeared to be a large and bright electric bulb. It was this which provided all the light available in that immensity of darkness, except for the glimmering of some dim and distant stars. It was laid upon me that I must reach and cross the light-bulb to the section of cable beyond.
As I neared that lonely beacon on the narrow swaying line, my steps became even more careful than they had been. Then, just as I reached it, and was about to step across, there was a crash and blinding light-flash.
And immediately I was on a hillside, where there was light but no sun—I suppose the kind of light “that never was on land or sea.” And the air held an intoxicating freshness. It filled my lungs and I felt the pure joy of living. Down from the hill before me sloped a very lovely country, with a sparkling river running through its undulations.
In the distance appeared some signs of a city—I could just note suggestions of spires and building shapes of purest harmony against an agate skyline.
The urge came on me to go down to the river among the lovely flowers of that smoothly-contoured, trackless, and unscarred place, and to find some company; for there was no sign of man or beast, and I longed to have others there with whom to revel in the joy of the place—its glory of colouring — pastel-tinted but so thoroughly restful and right—the shapeliness and justly-proportioned symmetry of its hills and valleys, and, above all, the delightful feeling of its light and air.
But just as I made to move from off the slope on which I stood, I woke from sleep to the early morning sounds of the hospital ward—and I felt fine! The temperature had gone —and did not come back to any extent—and I was filled with sweet contentment, for I had a new “dream place” fixed in my mind, a place of living delight, to which thought would always bring me back if the ways of the days grew dull. It is a legacy that almost made typhoid worth-while.
* * *
Other dream places of my own I have a-plenty, but I like to look, when possible, at those seen by other eyes; and there are an infinity of these spread through the pages of literature and found in the good talk of friends who speak their minds. For they sometimes disclose “those secrets that are known in the profound interstices of time.”page 7
The poets, of course, are the greatest fellows for dream places.
It was the voice of the Nightingale that:
“Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn”—
for Keats—lines that many regard as the Everest of pure poetry, telling of a dream place infinite in extent and of indefinable enchantment.
Poe had a dream place:
“Whose shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not),
Resemble nothing that is ours.”
But when the moon shone, came lighter moments and things were different: “For,” said he, “the moon never beams without bringing me dreams of the beautiful Annabel Lee.”
Kipling said that his visualisation of the Empire was “in the shape of a semi-circle of buildings and temples projecting into a sea—of dreams.”
Who would not like to go, with Tennyson's King Arthur, to that other dream place—
“The island-valley of Avilion
Where falls not hail, or rain or any snow,
Nor even wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep meadow'd, happy, fair with orchard lawns,
And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.”
And then, for a change, and a chance to review “all the adventures of his discontent” to the valley of James Thomson's trance, where:
“Enormous cliffs arose on either hand,
The deep tide thundered on a league-broad strand;
While foam-belts seethed there, wan spray swept and flew;
The sky broke, moon and stars and clouds and blue.”
But to dismiss the booming sea and breaking sky as among the discomforts of dreams, who would not be in Xanadu when Kubla Khan was King? For, as Coleridge tells it:
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”
There, too, was “the deep romantic chasm.”
“A savage place; as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover !”
If we are to believe Henley (which, of course, nobody does) that:
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,”
how much more bracing it is to make the best of what we have, and remember R. L. Stevenson's opinion:
“To make this earth our hermitage
A cheerful and a changeful page,
God's bright and intricate device
Of days and seasons doth suffice.”
And analyse them how we will, every dream place of the imagination is based on that device, from the poet who could “hear the spectral singing of the moon” to the summarising Arthur Symonds who declared that:
“Life is a dream in the night, a fear among fears,
A naked runner lost in a storm of spears.”
These were impressed—perhaps unduly, or it might have been faulty digestion—by
“The world with all her winds and waters, earth and air,
Fields, folds and moving clouds
The awful and adored
Arches and endless aisles of vacancy, the fair
Void of sheer heights and hollow …”
But dream places must occupy the mind of every thinking person now and then until, as Francis Thomson puts it:
“Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
From the linked fantasties, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist
Are yielding …”