Department of English

Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University

2202242  Introduction to the Study of English Poetry




Dreams of the Animals


Margaret Atwood

(November 18, 1939-)


Mostly the animals dream

of other animals          each
according to its kind

              (though certain mice and small rodents

              have nightmares of a huge pink


              shape with five claws descending)

: moles dream of darkness and delicate
mole smells
frogs dream of green and golden
frogs 10
sparkling like wet suns
among the lilies
red and black
striped fish, their eyes open
have red and black striped 15
dreams         defense, attack, meaningful
birds dream of territories
enclosed by singing.
Sometimes the animals dream of evil 20
in the form of soap and metal
but mostly the animals dream
of other animals.
There are exceptions:

       the silver fox in the roadside zoo


       dreams of digging out

       and of baby foxes, their necks bitten


       the caged armadillo

       near the train

       station, which runs


       all day in figure eights

       its piglet feet pattering,

       no longer dreams

       but is insane when waking;


       the iguana


       in the petshop window on St. Catherine Street

       crested, royal-eyed, ruling

       its kingdom of water-dish and sawdust


       dreams of sawdust


Margaret Atwood



Dreams: Dreams connote hope, like when we say "hopes and dreams."  Do you see hopeful dreaming in this poem?  What other connotations of dreams do you find?

Cages: Dreams, being in the realm of imagination, are supposed to defy boundaries, make possible things that may be impossible in reality.  Is it true in this poem that dreams allow us to break free of our various imprisonments, our limitations in terms of place, of thought, of feelings?  What kinds of "cages" do you see in the poem?  Are rules a kind of cage?  What rules are set and what rules are broken in "Dreams of the Animals"?

Place: How do words and their associative meanings create an environment for each kind of animal described?  What does the contrast that often occurs between the denotative and connotative meanings of words add to our understanding of the initial phrase "each / according to its kind"?

Logic: What does the poem set out to do?  Is there a logic to this endeavor?  If so, what sense can we get out of this seemingly senseless and irrational description of animals' dreams?

Humor: Atwood's play with word connotations allows us to identify familiar things in a different perspective.  For example, a whole cat becomes a comically and surreally disembodied  "huge pink / shape with five claws descending" (l. 5-6).  Where else do you see Atwood's humor in the portrayal of various animals' dreams?



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Last updated June 19, 2007