If there were dreams to sell

Poems of Thomas Lovell Beddoes

SOMETIMES one comes across a piece of writing so exquisite that reading it causes the heart to ache. Such is Dream Pedlary by Thomas Lovell Beddoes which appeared in an anthology of poems that I studied in Secondary school. Even at the thoughtless age of 13, I could sense the beauty of language and pathos in the lyrical lines which played continually in my mind until today, half a century later.

Dream Pedlary is one of about a dozen poems that have become so ingrained in my memory that they constitute what I call my literary DNA. Recently, a friend asked me to write some lines for his company to help sell their herbal and tonic products as part of their Mother’s Day promotion (May 2013). As he talked, some lines from Dream Pedlary, together with the lyrics of a song, Perhaps Love, flashed through my mind. The promotional text I dashed out for him was:

What would you bid
For Mother’s Love?

What is mother’s love? Some say it is a resting place and refuge, to give you comfort and keep you warm. And as in an old song, the memory of mother’s love will bring you home.

If Mother’s love is up for auction, what would you bid? A passing bell, a light sigh, a wish that all is well with Mother.

So this Mother’s Day, warm her heart with a hug and a thoughtful gift.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes (June 30, 1803 – January 26, 1849) was an English physician, poet and dramatist. Much of his work shows a preoccupation with death. In 1824, he went to Göttingen to study medicine, motivated by the hope of discovering physical evidence of a human spirit which survives the death of the body. He was expelled, and then went to Würzburg to complete his training.

He wandered about practising medicine, writing poetry and expounding democratic theories which got him into trouble. He was deported from Bavaria in 1833, and had to leave Zürich, where he had settled, in 1840.

He led an itinerant life after leaving Switzerland, returning to England only in 1846, before going back to Germany. He became increasingly disturbed, and committed suicide by poison at Basel in 1849, at age 45.

Francis Chin, April 27, 2013

Dream Pedlary

If there were dreams to sell,
What would you buy?
Some cost a passing bell;
Some a light sigh,
That shakes from Life’s fresh crown
Only a rose-leaf down.
If there were dreams to sell,
Merry and sad to tell,
And the crier rang the bell,
What would you buy?
A cottage lone and still,
With bowers nigh,
Shadowy, my woes to still,
Until I die.
Such pearls from Life’s fresh crown
Fain would I shake me down.
Were dreams to have at will,
This would best heal my ill,
This would I buy.
But there were dreams to sell
Ill didst thou buy;
Life is a dream, they tell,
Waking, to die.
Dreaming a dream to prize,
Is wishing ghosts to rise;
And if I had the spell
To call the buried well,
Which one would I?
If there are ghosts to raise,
What shall I call,
Out of hell’s murky haze,
Heaven’s blue pall?
Raise my loved long-lost boy,
To lead me to his joy. —
There are no ghosts to raise;
Out of death lead no ways;
Vain is the call.
Know’st thou not ghosts to sue,
No love thou hast.
Else lie, as I will do,
And breathe thy last.
So out of Life's fresh crown
Fall like a rose-leaf down.
Thus are the ghosts to woo;
Thus are all dreams made true,
Ever to last!

Song from Torrismond

How many times do I love thee, dear?
Tell me how many thoughts there be
In the atmosphere
Of a new-fall’n year,
Whose white and sable hours appear
The latest flake of Eternity:
So many times do I love thee, dear.

How many times do I love again?
Tell me how many beads there are
In a silver chain
Of evening rain,
Unravelled from the tumbling main,
And threading the eye of a yellow star:
So many times do I love again.

If Thou Wilt Ease Thine Heart

If thou wilt ease thine heart
Of love, and all its smart, —
Then sleep, dear, sleep!
And not a sorrow
Hang any tear on your eyelashes;
Lie still and deep,
Sad soul, until the sea-wave washes
The rim o’ the sun tomorrow,
In eastern sky.

But wilt thou cure thine heart
Of love, and all its smart, —
Then die, dear, die!
’Tis deeper, sweeter,
Than on a rose bank to lie dreaming
With folded eye;
And then alone, amid the beaming
Of love’s stars, thou’lt meet her
In eastern sky.


If there were dreams to sell