“Methought I saw my late espoused saint,” begins Milton’s sonnet 23. It was a dream that had resurrected her, this second wife Katherine whom he married in 1656 when he was already blind. What magical murmurs of delight dreams whisper from the nethersphere. Several of my own have imprinted themselves so deeply that I can gather their impressions even now, years after: such as walking down the stairs, tall and deep, of a lost abode, with a certainty of reclaiming it, though in reality I had lost the house for a long time. Or the dream last night, still vivid in its physicality:
It was a morning gathering of wakers, I still in my bed, while around me in a crowded room (like a motel’s but not, because we were at home with a huge picture window) passed shapes of my ex husband and his present wife, both tall and stately, and with them a baby who was not mine, but theirs, though I was glad they had her. They had come to visit from afar (unlikely since we all live in the Twin Cities) and I awoke to find them bustling about. Approaching me still in my bed, the wife bent her tall frame and laid a series of sweet breath-kisses on my cheek. Then there was more bustle and I awoke.
What astonishes me about this dream is its vivid sense of touch. Milton in his blindness saw his dead wife veiled in white rise into vision from death. The agony of the ending says precisely what the dream offered, but waking removed:
But O as to embrace me she enclin’d
I wak’d, she fled, and day brought back my night.
What he saw in dream, he had never seen in life, since he married Katherine when he was already blind; their child was born within the next year, and the following four months, she died.
This brief series of reversals shocks in its irony. All this the poem captures.
And my lovely message from a sphere I could not visit otherwise? It is the sweetness of sisterly attachment when, in life, this second wife and I have been kind but rarely intimate. I left, and after a few years, she came into his life. I have never regretted that, since why would I wish more harm than divorce had already visited on us?
My dream, unlike Milton’s, carries not vivid irony, but a surprising infusion of some other emotion. I can’t quite name it beyond the extraordinary sensation of that kiss, as physical in its impression as if it had been truly bestowed. Something like the phantom leg of amputees which, I understand, grieves and pains them, though my experience was all bliss. Perhaps this angel of unexpected relation will return and make her message more pronounced, though that’s not necessary. It is the breath on my cheek that counts.