This essay first appeared on my blog in August 2010.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Hamlet, Langston Hughes
“Do NOT dream of the illusory!” I would shout, did I have the power over mind. “Do NOT think of anything chimerical!” I would scream at the top of my lungs, did I have the power over thought. “Do NOT crave for the impossible!” I would roar with disgust, did I have the power over soul.
Did I have power over my thoughts, I would be … a pessimist. Did I have power over my soul, I would be … a realist. But if only I had power over my dreams, I would be a self-restrained realist and a self-disciplined pessimist. But that is not what I am. Because I do dream and imagine things, because I cannot control severely my illusions, because I do not want to be captured by pure rational thought. But people need to dream, to long for things, to love. They need to travel through mind, to experience the flawless perfection, to receive the love that dreams create.
However, what happens if a dream fails, if the expectations turn up to be sand castles? What remains after the wave is sand. And few are strong enough to rebuild the castle on the very same place – those who are in love with love know that the sea comes again every minute but this is no obstacle. This is the meaning of their life. To learn how to make the castle stronger is the sensual ravishment that makes people crave and come back to it every time a dream is deferred.
What differentiates people’s dreams is the longed-for results. But there are different people and very different dreams. And it is on these different dreams that the reaction to the deferral depends. The more modest the dream is, the less rottening and less drying-up it is. However, rarely do people dream of modest things because they want to have what they do not and usually it is in spheres very different from the appropriate for them.
There is a particular example of dreaming for the impossible, or even dreaming for too much of it, that I remember particularly well because of it close relation to one of my favorite books “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. It is a film called “Samsara”. Hesse’s character is a boy who wants to learn cognition, to understand the world, to mingle with it, to achieve Nirvana. He goes through many obstacles which train him – he gets to know the life of Tibetan monks, the carnal sins. But then he achieves the salvation he has been dreaming of. The “Samsara” character goes the other way round. In the beginning of the film his story is told – he is a monk, who has achieved the Nirvana and has been meditating for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. But he then falls in love with a peasant girl. He marries her and starts leading normal life. But then comes a moment when his carnal desires are too strong for him to control and he decides to return to the monastery. Unfortunately for him, there is no way back. His dream of achieving more supreme Nirvana going all the way that Siddhartha goes fails because he cannot possible have everything he is dreaming of. He is forced to return to his life of a land-owner. His dream becomes a sore, his Nirvana – impossible to achieve again, his soul – restless. The price he pays is too high one – it becomes a burden. For him there is only one philosophy from there on: to prevent a drop from evaporating, drop it in the sea. He needs to return to his sea and to accept his weakness.
Unlike him, a few centuries back in time lived a romantic poet whose dreams of purifying the world predominate in his poetry – Percy Bysshe Shelley. Imagine Shelley in the depressing bleakness of the reality, tortured by misery and death, watching the sky and waiting for inspiration. This must have been the picture he saw – his escape from reality and cruelty, his dream. What a better relief than the mysterious catalyst “silver sphere”?
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then
As I am listening now.
If he could have learn this and accept it unequivocally, be would have been able to recompose his ideas and accept the misery around him which was to be converted to human happiness and harmony. His dream would be his strongest weapon. If we search though the archives of Coca Cola, we will find literally thousands of advertisements appealing for the same – “we would like to instruct the world to sing and live in perfect harmony” This is a group of people, who popularize a utopian dream, based on the simple condition of drinking coke. Perhaps, Shelley’s skylark with her beautiful voice and immortal presence shows us a shorter way to harmony. Mary Shelley (Percy’s wife more famous for her creation of “Frankenstein”) claims that this is one of the most beautiful poems of her husband. But for Percy Shelley it is something more – it is the connection between idealism and radical thoughts. The message sent by the skylark has the power to provoke the change of which the poet dreams. The “unbodied joy” of that “silver sphere” consists of a centuries-old philosophic thought, inspired by Plato and all the other Greek philosophers developing the theme “Ideal Harmony”. Freedom. Shelley tries in his own way to be free: independent from the contempt of his contemporaries, free to express his observations through his poetic message. The gaudy moods of the lark echo resonantly in that idea even now – two hundred years after they were observed. This is a heritage for those of us who try to make/find our own niche of freedom.
While this dreams remains unachieved, there is another possible end – to achieve the dream and not be happy again. This is what happens to Patrick Suskind’s character Jean-Baptist Greneuille. Jean has the most delicate nose in whole France. He is enchanted with the beauty of the numerous scents that fill the streets of 18th-century Paris. His wanting to become perfumer becomes his obsession and he finds ways to fulfil his dreams. Faith meets him with a beautifully smelling girl. He is so obsessed that he wants to create a scent that has her enchanting aura. Unfortunately by the time he meets her he still does not know how to create scents. To become perfumer becomes his incantation through which he is bound to achieve his greatest dream of all. Like a real greneuille (fr. frog) he does become master. He knows already how to take a scent out of the source. And his sources become innocent victims of Nature, favoured by beauty. He kills them in order to get what he wants – the scent. He is accused of the murders and sentenced to death. But he anoints himself with a drop of the fragrance he has made – a mixture of the essential oils of different girls – and the moment he steps of the square where a mob has gathered to watch; everyone present is mesmerized with Greneuille. Even the father of one of the girls grabs Greneuille and forgives him everything. But this is not what Jean-Baptist dreams of. He is so disgusted with human nature that as soon as possible he leaves the town. When he reaches the next small village he anoints himself with the rest of the perfume and leaves himself being torn literally by knives, nails and stones – out of sheer love. Is that what a dream is? A false statement, a raisin drying in the sun?
A dream should be a magnificent opulent tremendous stupendous gargantuan bedazzlement. It should be earthy and controlled, and invigorating and exhilarating. It makes people travel, it makes them stable. It points out the right paths and the wrong paths. It is a heavy burden of sweetness and sheer joy. It is the Moon which makes people ware-wolves; it is the Sun which kills vampires. It is a harmoniously ravishing intoxication and a harsh pungency. It can be here, there and everywhere. But what is for sure – it will always be with people, because they love flying and falling.