Tag Archives: insanity

Ian Hamilton’s ‘In Dreams’

To live like this:
One hand in yours, the other
Murderously cold; one eye
Pretending to watch over you,
The other blind.
We live in dreams:
These sentimental afternoons,
These silent vows,
How we would starve without them.

John Benjamin of The Bully Pullpit (an excellent social commentary and human reflective blog, by the way—highly, highly recommended) suggested that one of my poems, My Epitaph, reminded him of the Hamilton poem Biography. (Having since read that poem I am red cheeked that anyone would favorably put one of my works in the same sentence with it.) What a compliment…thank you again, John!

In any event, intrigued—since Ian Hamilton was not a poet I was familiar with—I ordered his Collected Poems from Amazon. (Sadly, it is no longer in print, but luckily, I was able to score one of the few paperbacks available on the afters market.)


And what a treasure this little volume of poetry is! Hamilton’s output was small; at one point he characterizes it as ’50 poems in 25 years’ although by the end of his too short, cut-by-cancer life he had written a few dozen more. But still, although a small output, it is a major one: each poem is a finely faceted jewel, beautifully and painfully wrought from the purest sense of intensity and human emotion. I am in awe of his ability to see so close and so honestly to the heart of a matter and to allude to it so quickly, yet sum it up so perfectly.

His was not an easy life. I’ll let you read the details via the Wikipedia link, but suffice it to say that I believe this poem In Dreams was written about dealing with the mental illness of his first wife.

As to his standing as a poet, I am not even sure that he would have even characterized himself, at least at first, as a poet. He is better known as a critic, editor and biographer. But surely the proof is in the work itself. His poems may be few in number and they may all be brief in character, but they are simply exquisite in composition. There are other poets of the second half of the 20th century who were more famous in their lifetimes than Ian Hamilton, but none were better and none deserve more fame than he, as we continue on into the 21st century.

This will be the first of a few of his poems that I will present to show more of his genius. But I highly recommend you finding, if you can, your own copy of his Collected Poems. It is so well worth the effort!

Thank you for reading Ian Hamilton’s ‘In Dreams’. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


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