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A formula to defeat a superiority complex: Comparing Psalms 90:10 and Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream”

A Dream Within a Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;

Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —

How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep — while I weep!
O God! Can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

Edgar Allan Poe

Psalm 90:10

Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

A Short Comparative Analysis and The Formula to overcome a superiority complex

The biblical verse from Psalm 90:10 and the line from Poe’s poem “A Dream Within a Dream” both speak to the brevity of life’s joys and how quick is the passage of time.

The psalmist sets the scene by acknowledging the typical human lifespan of seventy and “with strength” eighty years if we are fortunate. Even the best of these years are full of trouble and sorrow and before you know it, you “fly away” into the arms of death. This scripture of Psalm is the historical origin, at least from tradition, to the common adage: “Life is a b word and then we die.”

Poe’s lyrical verse also evokes the swift departure of life’s pleasures and satisfactions, represented here by the metaphor of hope taking flight “in a night, or in a day.” The symbolism of the grain of sands can be interpreted as a representation of the joys and meaningful moments in life that are numerous but slip through our grasp.

In a broader sense, the poem’s message is about the futility of trying to hold onto the past or predict the future. It emphasizes the importance of cherishing the present moment, as the past and future are elusive and ever-changing. The psalmist’s lament on the brevity of life and Poe’s mournful verse on the disappearance of hope both evoke the transient nature of human existence.

There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon that also addresses these themes:

I, Jacob, began to be old; and I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days.

Jacob 7:27

While the writings of Poe and these verses of scripture might convey a sense of living in the present moment (when afforded a liberal interpretation), it would be naive to see their works as solely promoting an optimistic or idealistic worldview. There are strong elements of seeing our own futile existence in their texts as well.

In today’s Instagram culture that often celebrates an idealized version of reality, we may need more voices like Poe and the Psalmist to remind us of the unimportance of life. Their works provide a sobering counterbalance to an online world filled with curated perfection. Perhaps by highlighting life’s insignificance, these writers mean to jolt us into humility and more meaning in shared existence rather than a world where we place ourselves above another.

“Can I not hold on tighter to life’s fleeting moments, O God? Can I not grasp them, can I not save them from slipping away?”