The Power of the Senses

I very often remember my dreams, and they are often very vivid. The older I get the more my dreams seem to hinge upon the senses and less upon “plot.” For example, sometimes I have dreams where I’m listening to music, and I may not really be doing anything in my dream, maybe it’s just a clip of me being somewhere and hearing this music, but I am really hearing it, really paying attention to it, and thinking about the character of the music during the dream. Other times I can see a certain color particularly well, like when I dream about the ocean (it’s always a very particular blue, or green, or grey).

During college I smoked cigarettes (gross, gross, I know) so I didn’t realize just how much my sense of smell had been affected until I quit towards the end of my studies. After a few months I felt like I had the most powerful nose in the world! I could smell everything so well that it was almost too much for me to handle—now the smell of cigarettes made me feel sick to my stomach. But I was amazed at my new heightened sense, especially because for me smell is a strong trigger for memory (see The Moment You Fall in Love). After a year or so, I experienced something strange and wonderful: vivid smells in my dreams. Once, I dreamt I was in my grandmother’s house (she had died not long before) and when I opened a box of her things, I could smell my Mema.

Last night my senses again came into play in a dream. I was with my boyfriend and his parents (whom I adore) around a big table, and we had opened a bottle of Amarone. I swirled the wine in my glass and noticed the color, a really deep kind of dusty brownish red. I smelled the wine, and it smelled like raisins, like the sun, sort of hot. I could smell dried fruits. And then I tasted the wine and felt so happy! I swished it around my mouth and the flavor was so intense—prune-y and raisin-y with really concentrated flavors. I felt that the flavor of the wine lasted forever. The dream was almost like a blind tasting, when you really take in all the elements of the wine with your senses and really pay attention to all the details. I think when you blind taste you really experience wine in a different way, vividly, like how I experienced this Amarone in my dream. The dream was even more incredible in light of the fact that I’ve only drunk Amarone a couple of times in my life.

Whether in real life, imagination, or in a dream, it is so very powerful when the senses come together like this. For me, it is the mark of a successful poem: the words form to create a vivid image, a moment where you can see, and smell, and feel, and hear every detail. Williams Carlos Williams did this (my favorite is The Red Wheelbarrow), and Haiku captures it also. When a writer uses words to capture a moment and bring it vividly to the mind’s eye of others, I think that’s pretty fantastic.

The sound of the carp,

The water faintly dark,

The plum blossoms white.


Clearing up in the evening;

In the pale blue sky,

Row upon row of autumn mountains.


Waking in the night,

I mingle my coughs

With the cries of insects.


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