This is my interpretation of Oscar Wilde dreamer moonlight meaning, explored and explained.
There are various interpretations of this Oscar Wilde quote, utters by the character Gilbert in the essay “The Critic As Artist“.
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world
(Intentions By Oscar Wilde, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1891, The Critic As Artist: With Some Remarks Upon The Importance Of Discussing Everything, Part II, P. 217) source
(The quote is also found here.)
By the way, this essay is actually a revised version of two articles that first appeared in the British monthly literary magazine “The Nineteenth Century” in 1890.
(The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, Vol. XXVIII, July-December, 1890, The True Function And Value Of Criticism: With Some Remarks On The Importance Of Doing Nothing: A Dialogue, P. 459) source
Note: Here is a collection of The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review
Now, let’s check out the meaning of Oscar Wilde dreamer moonlight quote.
To interpret the meaning of this quote, we have to analyze it in full from the source.
This quotation is from the dialogue between Gilbert and Ernest.
They are discussing about art, or rather aesthetics and art criticism to be exact.
Before Gilbert utters that line, Ernest says:
You have told me many strange things to-night, Gilbert. You have told me that it is more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it, and that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world; you have told me that all Art is immoral, and all thought dangerous; that criticism is more creative than creation, and that the highest criticism is that which reveals in the work of Art what the artist had not put there; that it is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge of it; and that the true critic is unfair, insincere, and not rational. My friend, you are a dreamer.
Then only Gilbert replies:
Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world
“And his reward.”
In other words, the full quote should be:
For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment and reward is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world
Many who try to explain this particular line, they either missed or omitted the “reward” part.
I think most of them do not even know that.
They just like this quote because it sounds romantic or poetic; as it has words: dreamer, moonlight and dawn.
Oscar Wilde Dreamer Moonlight Meaning
Let’s shed some light on this nebulous quotation.
Before I elaborate the quote, let’s find out how the character Gilbert comes to say this particular line.
Ernest highlights to Gilbert: “You have told me many strange things to-night, Gilbert”.
Then he goes on to mention all the ironies, contradictions and paradoxes which Gilbert has mentioned earlier.
Ernest sums up saying, “My friend, you are a dreamer.”
Then Gilbert admits he is a dreamer and goes on to expound this dreamer moonlight quote.
What Ernest meant by “strange things“, must be Gilbert’s ridiculous thoughts, eccentric views and unfounded arguments about art and criticism.
The keyword in this quote is “dreamer“.
Remember dreamers are not merely those who are bold enough to conceive frivolous ideas; many of them are visionaries as well.
They have the ability of imagining what is possible and set their eyes on unknown horizons.
As we know dreamers have a vivid imagination and they tend to be more creative.
In addition, we have read about the relationship between intelligence and creativity.
Creative people like to daydream and imagine the possibilities and wonders of the world.
Being a dreamer is a prerequisite for being a visionary.
In a way, these dreamers are not just creative but, they are intelligent too. Or having innovative intelligence, to be exact.
One good example of a dreamer-cum-visionary is the late French writer Jules Verne.
Recently there is so much talk about the importance of science fictions.
Now, let’s break up the quote and see what Oscar Wilde actually meant.
The first part of this quotation is:
“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight”
According to Mr. Wilde, the so-called fanciful idealist (dreamer) is the only person who can understand or make sense of (find his way) the surreal world (moonlight).
The surreal world which I am referring to, is the esoteric aesthetic philosophy and also about the irony of life.
As we know, moonlight or a moonlit night is always synonymous with something shadowy, vague, or ethereal.
It has this romantic connotation of a guy or a girl walking along the shadow-strewn path in the moonlit night.
And the next things that comes to mind are: dreamers and romantics.
Punishment And Reward
Then the second part of the line is:
“and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
I think this line means, even though a dreamer has the ability of understanding all those “strange things“, he also has his drawback (punishment).
The drawback is “he sees the dawn before the rest of the world“.
What does this phrase mean?
“sees the dawn before the rest of the world ” means he knows the glaring truth or the consequence ahead of other people.
As I have mentioned above, dreamers have their heads in the cloud, but they are well-grounded too.
They can vision alternative pathways and outrageous outcomes, doesn’t mean they do not know realities.
Remember they started off from facts and realities, before their mind veered off into the uncharted course.
Have you heard this quote?
“Only the dreamer shall understand realities, though, in truth, his dreaming must not be out of proportion to his waking!” – Margaret Fuller
(Summer On The Lakes In 1843 By Margaret Fuller, Boston: Charles C. Little And James Brown, 1844, Ch. V, Wisconsin, Free Hope, P. 127) source
(The quote is also found here.)
I think Wilde chose such a strong word “punishment” as a contrast to the first part of the quote; the romantic dreamer finding his way in the moonlight.
A dreamers is usually deemed as a free spirit who has a blithe disregard for the reality of life.
He is implying even a happy-go-lucky person (dreamer) also has his frustration.
Then he added it is not only a disadvantage, but is also a benefit (reward).
Oscar Wilde uses the moonlight and and dawn metaphorically, to imply abstract and reality respectively.