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A dream vision or visio is a literary device in which a dream or vision is recounted as having revealed knowledge or a truth not available to the dreamer or visionary in a normal waking state. While dreams occur frequently throughout the history of literature, visionary literature as a genre began to flourish suddenly, and is especially characteristic, in early medieval Europe. In both its ancient and medieval form, the dream vision is often felt to be of divine origin. The genre reemerges in the era of Romanticism, when dreams were regarded as creative gateways to imaginative possibilities beyond rational calculation.
This genre typically follows a structure whereby a narrator recounts his experience of falling asleep, dreaming, and waking, and the story is often an allegory. The dream, which forms the subject of the poem, is prompted by events in his waking life that are referred to early in the poem. The ‘vision’ addresses these waking concerns through the possibilities of the imaginative landscapes offered by the dream-state. In the course of the dream, the narrator, often with the aid of a guide, is offered perspectives that provide potential resolutions to his waking concerns. The poem concludes with the narrator waking, determined to record the dream – thus producing the poem. The dream-vision convention was widely used in European literature from late Latin times until the 15th century.
Authors and works
- Augustine of Hippo, Soliloquia
- Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae
- Cicero, Dream of Scipio
- Macrobius, Commentary on Cicero's Dream of Scipio
- Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la rose, also translated into Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Marie de France, The Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick
- Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse, a 14th-century dream poem incorporated in Le Ménagier de Paris
- The aisling is a genre of dream poetry in Irish literature.
- Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy exemplifies the conventions of dream-vision literature, though Dante specifically says that his vision is not a dream
- Bede, Vision of Drycthelm
- Anonymous, The Dream of the Rood – the guide in Dream of the Rood is the Cross on which Christ was crucified.
- Geoffrey Chaucer, Legend of Good Women, House of Fame, Book of the Duchess, Parliament of Fowls – The Parliament of Fowls features a dream vision in which the narrator falls asleep while reading the Dream of Scipio and is ushered into a walled garden. He is chaperoned in the dream briefly by Scipio the Elder himself.
- William Langland, Piers Plowman or Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman (William's Vision of Piers Plowman) is an apocalyptic Middle English allegorical narrative attributed to William Langland, one of the great works of English literature. It is written in unrhymed alliterative verse divided into sections called "passus" (Latin for "step").
- Anonymous, Parlement of the Thre Ages
- Anonymous, Wynnere and Wastoure
- Pearl Poet, Pearl
- The Vision of Tundale, a translation from the Latin Visio Tnugdali.
- Anonymous, The Dream of Rhonabwy, possibly a satire on the medieval dream vision
- Anonymous, The Dream of Macsen Wledig
- Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Paradise, Death and Doomsday in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2001, 2004), p. 78.
- Christine Kenyon, Jones, "Dreams and Dreaming," in Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850 (Taylor & Francis, 2004), vol. 1, pp. 293–294; Douglas B. Wilson, The Romantic Dream: Wordsworth and the Poetics of the Unconscious (University of Nebraska Press, 1993), p. 11.