Thursday, 2 July 2009

Graham Greene's dream diary

Graham Greene was one of the outstanding writers of the twentieth century. He will be remembered for his wonderful books; books such as Our Man in Havana, Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and The Power and the Glory.
Shortly before he died he was visited by two women at the hospital in Vevey, Switzerland. One was his daughter Caroline. The other was Yvonne Cloetta and he asked her to prepare his dream diary and to publish it following his death. This posthumous book he would call A World of My Own after a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus (500 BC): The waking have one world in common, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.

Greene kept a dream diary for almost twenty-five years. The result ran to more than 800 pages. He began the diary in 1965 and completed it in 1989. The published selection, chosen by Greene, runs to 116 pages. It was published in 1992, the year after Greene's death.

A few of my short stories have been drawn from [dream] memories, Greene admits. In Dream of a Strange Land he recorded his dream experience as a leper seeking treatment in Sweden. Only the sound of a shot with which the printed tale ends has been added, he reveals. Another story The Root of All Evil takes place in 19th century Germany. In this story he changed nothing after he woke.

There is another side to dreams that interests Graham Greene and this is when dreams contain what he calls scraps of the future. He points us to J W Dunne's interesting and investigative book Experiment with Time. I note time and again incidents ... a few days after the dream, Greene says. He is convinced Dunne was right when he claims that some dreams can foreshadow future events.

In his dream diary Graham Greene recorded a dream in which he found himself writing a poem for a competition in a magazine called Time and Tide. It was about my own death, he tells his readers

The Room Next Door

From the room next door
The TV talks to me
Of sickness, nettlerash, and herbal tea.

My breath is folded up
Like sheets in lavender.

The end for me
Arrives like nursery tea.

(title idea and verse construction by P-i-R)

When World War I broke out Graham Greene was a young boy. But in A World of My Own he records two dreams about the so-called Great War. The dream that interests Poet-in-Residence is the one where Graham Greene finds himself in the body of Wilfred Owen the poet. In fact he is Owen. He is wearing a steel helmet and an officers uniform and he is in a dug-out. There he begins to recite a verse he has called Givenchy to a girl in a photograph.


Imagine, dear, the shallow trench,
An impregnable redoubt
For this good night and more...

But suddenly the weariness of the war overcomes him and he begins, as Wilfred Owen, to weep. And as he sobs a voice cries out, "The Germans have dropped gas bombs..."

In her foreword written at Vevey in October 1991 Yvonne Cloetta writes,-

Graham -
In The Power and the Glory you wrote: 'The glittering worlds lay there in space like a promise; the world was not the universe. Somewhere Christ might not have died.'
If such a place exists, you have certainly found it.

A World of My Own a dream diary
Graham Greene
Penguin Books, Reinhardt Books, Alfred A Knopf
c) 1993, 1992, 1992


  1. Fascinating this Poet - Graham Greene is amongst my favourite writers (after Evelyn Waugh, Laurence Durrell and John Updike, I think - oh and maybe Scott Fitzgerald!) but I knew nothing of this Dream Diary. The idea is not unlike my idea of Walking in the Mind - I suppose that is what we do in dreams, although we have no choice as to where we go when dreaming.

  2. new to me too Gwilym most interesting

  3. just for the record -
    I had a very strange dream the night after I wrote GG's dream diary. In my dream I went to the house of someone who'd died but I didn't have a key to get in.

  4. This is new to me too, Gwilym. I never knew that what I had done in my poems has a precedence: I too have used my dream-contents in many of my poems. It's a wonderful experience to rewrite one's dreams with or without change in a story or poem. I did think that I should maintain a diary of my dreams but somehow dreams stopped coming and, for the last few years, even my sleep has not been sound or refreshing, so there was no need!
    R K

  5. Hello R K, I did try a couple of times to keep a dream diary and although it was interesting and sometimes even contained premenitions I came to the conclusion both times that I'd be better off having a good solid sleep. And so I gave up the project.
    Best, Gwilym

  6. I too did a similar thing once. But soon I discovered I neither had solid sleep not dreams!

    R K


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