Lost De Quinceyean Dreams (Prose Poems)

Lost De Quinceyean Dreams

By Matt Schumacher

Illustration by Zhenya Gay of Thomas de Quincey’s  Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Illustration by Zhenya Gay of Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater


The 1821 revised Confessions were to contain “the crowning grace” of twenty to twenty-five dreams, but nearly all these prose poems were burned or lost. In one of these, De Quincey’s nightmare exiles him to a solemn, ruinous city.  Gargoyles guard its arched entrance, inscribed with a slogan from Ovid: Dolor Ipse Disertum Fecerat. The streets abandoned save for the sense no one lives here. Just when he’s sure no one’s about, a pallid gaunt man in a top hat and long black trenchcoat hurries out a small door and proceeds briskly toward the poet with pure purpose. The pale stranger nears, gray eyes staring maliciously into De Quincey’s. Then, like opiumsmoke, walks right through him.


Le flâneur magnifique, De Quincey dreams that, while walking down Parisian streets, he’s truly gliding backwards. The dream soon has him rushing faster in reverse, then flying head over heels, sire of some cyclonic gyre, flown down and swallowed by a south pole Symmes Hole, tumbling into hollow earth. Shivering high diver into stalictite caverns. Traveler, his sieve-like vessel leaking flames on subterranean rivers of fire. He wakes in the tower of Remedios Vara’s painting Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle. It’s frightening to be suddenly blinded by the glare of his threadbare suit, an incandescent gold. To see his shirtsleeves, now lava flows. His coattails fulgurite. And what a hat! An ash cloud plume, rising from the brim to sublime heights of cumulus. The crown stitched here and there with lightning.


De Quincey dreams of sleeping cities long before electricity exists, cities whose steeples truly knew the moon. Cities seemingly deeply asleep, save for a scant lantern swaying down an alley, or a single flickering, candlelit room. He dreams of sleeping cities, silent cities which won’t let a rustle, not one whisper, slip. Not one hum from Northumbrian lowlands. With closed eyes like locked apothecary doors. A flock of insomniacs resume their posts as woe’s own nightwatchmen. He dreams of passengers restlessly sleeping on trains, perturbed, yet failing to complain, keeping to themselves. He dreams of sleep deprivation’s selling its last estate, sits betwixt narcoleptic auctioneer and hypnogogue who, drifting off, forgets to bid. Cities slide by in shimmering nightclothes, slow Barcelonas, languid Madrids, embark in darkness’s black fabric. De Quincey dreams of new dreams silently settling in, like a scarlet ibis retires to its nest. Strange visions dilate strange eyes, open the white flower of so many nightblooming minds beneath so many thousand eyelids.


He dreams he’s a jockey galloping ahead of all of the other thoroughbreds on a steed named Celestial Hallucination, one of hundreds of horses the Zetas race in the United States to launder millions in fiendish proceeds. The horse gallops faster and faster, murdering the competition, then leaps steeplechase-style over the track and fence, metamorphosing beneath De Quincey into a manyheaded beast. Sudden heads of sabertoothed tigers and tyrannosaurus rex crane their necks to salivate on him. Their gleaming teeth can’t quite reach him. Burying his face in its mane, he grips the chimera tighter. Glancing down, he sees his legs and arms have fused into the beast. His limbs belong to the wild scaffolding and bellows of its wings, hot and loud as a jet engine, part of this monstrosity flying higher into the air, this thing shapeshifting all the while with fangs gaping, slavering jaws wide, soaring somewhere in the stratosphere, trying to eat him alive.

From Matt Schumacher’s unpublished collection A Missing Suspiria de Profundis

Matt Schumacher's collections of poetry include Spilling the Moon, The Fire Diaries, Ghost Town Odes, and favorite maritime drinking songs of the miraculous alcoholics. Managing editor of the journal Phantom Drift, he lives in Portland, Oregon.


The Diving Bell (poem)

The Diving Bell

by Maurice Maeterlinck

Lo, the diver, forever within his bell!
And a whole sea of glass, a sea eternally warm!
A whole motionless world, a world of slow green rhythms!
So many curious creatures beyond those walls of glass,
And any contact eternally prohibited!
And yet there is so much life in those bright waters yonder!

Look! The shadows of great sailing-ships
           —they glide over the flowers, the dahlias of the submarine forest!
And I stand for a moment in the shadow of whales that are voyaging to the Pole!
And at this very moment, I doubt not, my fellow-men in the harbour
Are discharging the vessels that sail hither laden with ice:
A glacier was there, in the midst of the July meadows!
And men are swimming and floating in the green waters of the creek,
And at noon they enter shadowy cav­erns . . .
And the breezes of ocean are fanning the roofs and balconies.

Lo, the flaming tongues of the Gulf­-Stream!
Take heed lest their kisses touch the walls of lassitude!
They have ceased to lay ice on the brows of the fevered
And the patients have lit a bonfire
And are casting great handfuls of green lilies into the flames!
Lean your brows upon the cooler panes,
While waiting for the moonlight to enter the bell from above.
And close your eyes tightly, to the forest of colour,
The pendulous blues and albuminous violets.
And close your ears to the suggestions of the tepid water.

Dry the brows of your desires; they are weak with sweat.
Go firstly to those on the point of swooning.
They have the air of people celebrating a wedding in a dungeon,
Or of people entering, at mid-day, a long lamp-lit avenue underground,
In festival procession they are passing
Thro' a landscape like an orphaned child­hood,
Go now to those about to die:
They move like virgins who have wandered far
In the sun, on a day of fast,
They are pale as patients who placidly listen to the rain in the gardens of the hospital;
They have the look of survivors, breaking their fast on a battle-field;
They are like prisoners who know that all their gaolers are bathing in the river,
And who hear men mowing the grass in the garden of the prison.

Translated by Bernard Miall in Poems by Maurice Maeterlinck, published 1915.

Cloche à plongeur

Ô plongeur à jamais sous sa cloche !
Toute une mer de verre éternellement chaude !
Toute une vie immobile aux lents pendules verts !
Et tant d'êtres étranges à travers les parois !
Et tout attouchement à jamais interdit !
Lorsqu'il y a tant de vie en l'eau claire au dehors !
Attention ! l'ombre des grands voiliers passe sur les dahlias des forêts sous-marines;
Et je suis un moment à l'ombre des baleines qui s'en vont vers le pôle !
En ce moment, les autres déchargent, sans doute, des vaisseaux pleins de neige dans le port !
Il y avait encore un glacier au milieu des prairies de Juillet !
Ils nagent à reculons en l'eau verte de l'anse !
Ils entrent à midi dans des grottes obscures !
Et les brises du large éventrent les terrasses !
Attention ! voici les langues en flamme du Gulf-Stream !
Écartez leurs baisers des parois de l'ennui !
On n'a plus mis de neige sur le front des fiévreux ;
Les malades ont allumé un feu de joie,
Et jettent à pleines mains les lys verts dans les flammes !
Appuyez votre front aux parois les moins chaudes,
En attendant la lune au sommet de la cloche,
Et fermez bien vos yeux aux forêts de pendules bleus et d'albumines violettes, en restant sourd aux suggestions de l'eau tiède.
Essuyez vos désirs affaiblis de sueurs ;
Allez d'abord à ceux qui vont s'épanouir :
Ils ont l'air de célébrer une fête nuptiale dans une cave ;
Ils ont l'air d'enterrer à midi, dans une avenue éclairée de lampes au fond d'un souterrain ;
Ils traversent, en cortège de fête, un paysage semblable à une enfance d'orphelin.
Allez ensuite à ceux qui vont mourir.
Ils arrivent comme des vierges qui ont fait une longue promenade au soleil, un jour de jeûne ;
Ils sont pâles comme des malades qui écoutent pleuvoir placidement sur les jardins de l'hôpital;
Ils ont l'aspect de survivants qui déjeunent sur le champ de bataille.
Ils sont pareils à des prisonniers qui n'ignorent pas que tous les geôliers se baignent dans le fleuve,
Et qui entendent faucher l'herbe dans le jardin de la prison.

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And read Richard Howard’s translation of Maurice Maeterlinck.