Billy Collin’s “The First Dream”: The Use of Self Expression in Poetry

Billy Collin’s poem The First Dream is clearly an expression of the feeling one has when one tries to explain an abstract experience. In Collin’s case, the abstract experience is a dream. Arguably, people tend to distance themselves from mystery as human beings tend to prefer real-world occurrences that can be explained. Additionally, it can be stated that many people believe in things they can see and touch. Abstract things are often termed hoaxes.

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Religion, however, is based on personal beliefs and has room for abstract ideas. Collins presents this puzzle in his poem. He relies on the themes of doubt and self-awareness to pass his message. The poet uses two characters to demonstrate how cumbersome it is to explain abstract phenomena such as dreams to others.

People dream when their mental organs go on a recess and take a rest from the normal ups and downs of active life. While some people can clearly remember what they dream about and connect the dreams to the events in their lives, others completely forget the experiences they go through when they are asleep. Forgetting a dream or remembering just parts of it is normal. Despite this, even when one remembers a dream describing it to another person is difficult. This paper aims at demonstrating Collin’s identity by closely examining elements of self-expression in his poem, drawing from the insights of Kraus on the concept of coherence (34). Collins uses pathos as his rhetorical strategy. He appeals to the emotions of the reader to understand how difficult it is to explain a dream.

As Kraus points out, narrative coherence helps the reader to analyze the language used by the author. This allows the reader to extract meaning from the writer’s expression of identity in the text (Kraus 31). In his literary expression of self, Collins imagines strange features of the first dream and how it would have been acted upon by two different people – a man and a woman. He begins the poem by presenting to the reader the first case scenario where the first dream is from the man’s perspective.

Collins uses imagery at the onset of his poem to illustrate that the night had come for the narrator, and it was time to sleep. To “lean on the door of sleep” (Collins 2) depicts the moment one has lied down and is just about to sleep. From the very beginning of the poem, Collins reveals and describes himself through his characters as imaginative and curious. In the third line, he contemplates how the dream of the first man could have occurred and projects how quiet he could have been the following morning (perhaps quiet because of the shock coming from the nature of the dream).

In the subsequent lines, Collins continues to imagine the repercussions of the first dream. He notes how the dreamer could isolate himself from others, sitting on a rock looking blankly into the lake while trying to come to terms with the reality of the dream. Thanks to his personal curiosity (as depicted in this poem), Collins brings to light what many people go through whenever they are misunderstood.

One can argue that Collins has also been a victim of the feelings he tries to project in the poem and continues to use them to describe himself. Feelings of dejection and loneliness are common as humans tend to shun or ignore things that are difficult to understand and interpret. Interestingly, the narrator did not have to explain his dream to “others” because they would not understand how, for example, “… he had put his arms around the neck of a beast that the others could touch only after they had killed it with stones, how he felt its breath on his bare neck…” (Collins 13-16).

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In the last 10 lines of the poem, the author presents the reaction that would have taken place if the dreamer was a woman. Since human beings are equal in many perspectives, he argues that the reaction would not have much difference from the previous case (based on gender).

The woman would have secluded herself near a lake and turned her head down. To the writer, this is a symbol of loneliness. At this point, Collins tries to envisage a situation where the reader would sympathize with the woman and be the first to offer her an expression of love (25-26). By changing to third-person narration, Collins attempts to underscore his previous point and leave the reader personally hooked to the ideas in the poem.

General analysis of Collins’ work reveals the normal upheavals people undergo whenever they are not understood by society. Most people tend to withdraw from the public to spend some prime time alone reflecting on the experiences they have gone through. Others go to the extremes, such as committing suicide as a way of dealing with their loneliness. Whatever the action, Collins’ primary message is that some experiences unravel emotions that cannot be understood by other people.

He also reveals how the public is likely to react differently to mysterious experiences. Whereas the public often gives empathy to women in distress, men are often left to deal with their own issues in private. Perhaps, this can be used to explain the increase in depression-related deaths among men as they suffer alone.

It is important to note that Collins uses figurative language to depict real-life situations and events. Even though he does not give much information about the identity of his characters, he wittingly uses their actions to pass his intended message to his readers. For instance, the example of the withdrawal from the crowd challenges the reader to identify the solitude experienced by the characters. One way Collins’ does this is through a deliberate lack of rhyme.

He presents the poem in a story-like fashion that makes it more original and interesting to the reader. Arguably, the only feature that makes it easy to distinguish the poem from a story is the way in which Collins puts his ideas and thoughts into stanzas. This makes the reader experience a continuous flow of information throughout the poem.

In summary, Collins’ poem The First Dream is a typical example of narrative coherence because the author uses prose to pass his intended message to the reader. The language used in the poem is simple. This means the reader can easily extract meaning from the poem and analyze the information therein. The tone of curiosity and uncertainty that is evident throughout the poem reveals the author’s literary skills.

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Overall, Collins tries to remind the reader of the fact that most people find it difficult to explain astounding experiences like dreams and other things with no tangible evidence. Explaining abstract experiences can be difficult, and one can feel overwhelmed, especially in cultures that believe in superstitions. There are many things in life that people conceal from the public. Collins indicates that these experiences of solitude exist, and people who go through them feel isolated. The constant referral to loneliness and isolation makes it easy for the reader to also identify some characteristics of the author. One can argue that the sentiments presented also echo the feelings of the author.

Works Cited

Collins, Billy. The First Dream. Poetry Soup. Web.

Kraus, Wolfgang. “Making Identity Talk. On Qualitative Methods in a Longitudinal Study.” Qualitative Social Research, vol. 1, no. 2. 2000, pp. 1-35.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Billy Collin’s "The First Dream": The Use of Self Expression in Poetry." June 14, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Billy Collin’s "The First Dream": The Use of Self Expression in Poetry'. 14 June.

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