In the God’s Dreams

By James Laughlin 1914–1997 James Laughlin
Am I a character in the dreams
of the god Hermes the messenger?   
Certainly many of my dreams   
have nothing to do with the   
common life around me. There   
are never any automobiles or   
airplanes in them. These   
dreams belong to an age in   
the distant past, to a time   
perhaps when nothing was   
written down, to the
time of memory.

I chose Hermes not out of   
vanity but because from what   
I’ve read about him he had a   
pretty good time, was not   
just a drunkard on Olympus.   
In his traipsings delivering   
divine messages he must have   
met some pretty girls who   
gave him pleasure. We know   
that he invented the lyre   
for the benefit of poets,   
and Lucian relates in his   
Dialogues of the Dead that   
he was the god of sleep
and dreams.

My dreams are not frightening,   
they are not nightmares. But   
their irrationality puzzles
me. What is Hermes trying to
tell me? Is he playing a game   
with me? Last Monday night   
I dreamt about a school for   
young children who had heads   
but no bodies. Last night it   
was a cow that was galloping   
in our meadow like a horse.   
Another night, and this one   
was a bit scary, I swam across   
the lake with my head under   
water, I didn’t have to breathe air.

What is the message of these   
dreams? Into what kind of world   
is Hermes leading me? It’s not   
the world described daily in the   
New York Times. A world of   
shadows? A kind of levitation?

How can I pray to Hermes to lay   
off these senseless fantasies,
tell him that I want real dreams   
such as my shrink can explicate.

I’ve looked up lustration in
the dictionary. Its definition
is not encouraging: “a prefatory   
ceremony, performed as a preliminary   
to entering a holy place.” That’s
too impersonal. I want a man-to-man   
talk with Hermes, telling him to   
stop infesting my nights with
his nonsense.

James Laughlin, “In the God’s Dreams” from Poems New and Selected. Copyright © 1996 by James Laughlin. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poems New and Selected (1998)

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Poet James Laughlin 1914–1997

Subjects Mythology & Folklore

 James  Laughlin


While a sophomore on leave of absence from Harvard University, James Laughlin met Ezra Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and was invited to attend the "Ezuversity"—Pound's term for the private tutoring he gave Laughlin over meals, on hikes, or whenever the master paused in his labors. "I stayed several months in Rapallo at the 'Ezuversity,' learning and reading," recalls Laughlin in an interview with Linda Kuehl for the New York Times . . .

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SUBJECT Mythology & Folklore

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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