Translating Dreams: A 147-year-old Lucid Dream!

There’s a plan afoot to bring out a full English translation of a book by the intrepid lucid dream explorer D’Hervey de Saint-Denys, so that the English-speaking community can benefit from his fascinating insights into dreaming. This exciting Kickstarter project is led by Daniel Love and I’m involved as a lucid dream consultant. The project is looking for backers. Here’s one of D’Hervey’s 147-year-old lucid dreams to whet your appetite!

This is only a swift, rough translation I’ve done myself, but it aims to give an idea of the sort of experimental thinking D’Hervey applied to his lucid dream world, and the beauty and detail he often discovered there. His book was useful to me when I was doing my PhD research into lucid dreaming, as his enquiring mind illuminates the writing and raises all sorts of questions about the dream state. When he refers to ‘remembering his true situation’, he means he becomes lucid in the dream:

In another dream where I find myself riding a horse on a beautiful day, I remember my true situation as well as the question of finding out if I have free will over my imaginary actions in dreams or not.

‘Let’s see,’ I say to myself, ‘this horse is nothing but an illusion, this countryside I’m riding through is decor; but if it’s not my willpower that has evoked these images, it still seems I have a certain influence over them. If I want to gallop, I gallop; if I want to stop, I stop. Here are two paths opening up before me. The one on the right seems to plunge into a dense wood; the one on the left leads to a sort of ruined manor. I feel I have the freedom to turn to the right or to the left, and in doing so decide for myself if I want to create idea-images associated with these ruins or these woods.

First I turn to the right; then the idea comes to me that it would be better, in the interest of my experiments, to guide such a lucid dream towards the turrets and the keep, because by trying to remember exactly the principal architectural details, when I wake up I might be able to recognise the origin of these memories. So I take the path on the left and dismount at a very picturesque drawbridge, and for the few moments that I still remain asleep, I examine with great attentiveness an infinite amount of big and small details: pointed vaults, sculpted stones, ornamental hinges half eaten away, cracks and discolouration of the walls, admiring the minute precision with which they are painted in my mind’s eye.

Soon, however, while I’m considering the gigantic lock of an old dilapidated door, the objects suddenly lose their colour and the clarity of their contours… I am waking up. I open my eyes to the real world…’

(From pp. 150-51 of Les Reves et les Moyens de les Diriger: Observations Pratiques, by D’Hervey de Saint-Denys (1867) Transl: Clare Johnson)

If you enjoyed this and would like to see all of Saint-Denys’ dreams brought to life, you can back the project here.

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