The Three Dreams of René Descartes
Quod vitae sectabor iter? Which path in life will I choose?
I am walking in an unknown street, when suddenly ghosts appear in front of me. Terrified, I want to flee, but I feel a great weakness on my right side, and am obliged to lean on my left to be able to advance. Ashamed of walking in this grotesque position, I make an immense effort to stand upright, but an impetuous wind suddenly spins me three or four times on my left foot, like a top. Then I stop spinning and force myself to continue to advance, but my body’s position makes walking difficult, and I think that I am going to fall with each step that I take.
A college, whose door is open, then appears in my path. I enter, thinking to find refuge there, and perhaps a remedy for what is ailing me. I then see the college church and want to go there to pray, but I notice that I have passed a man whom I know, without greeting him. I want to turn back to say something agreeable to him, but am violently pushed back by the wind which is blowing against the church and stopping me from advancing. At the same time, I see, in the middle of the college courtyard, another person who calls me by my name and says to me: “Would you be kind enough to carry something to one of our friends?”
I ask what I am to carry. I receive no answer, but imagine (I don’t know why) that it is a melon brought from some foreign country.
I continue walking, dragging myself along and tottering, while the people whom I meet are walking firmly on their feet. The wind has dropped. I am so unhappy that I wake up.
The dream has anguished me so much I think perhaps a bad genie has come to torment me. I make a long prayer to secure myself against the bad effects of my vision and after two hours of unhappy thoughts, I go back to sleep
I am immediately transported into another dream where I hear a sharp, explosive noise, which I take for thunder. Fear awakens me. I find that some coals have fallen from my fireplace.
After a short time, I go back to sleep once more, and find myself in a third dream. In front of me, on a table, is a book. Having opened it, I see that it is a dictionary. Then I notice a second book, this one a poetry anthology. I flick through it and immediately come upon the latin verse:
Quod vitae sectabor iter?
Which path in life will I choose?
At the same time, an unknown man appears and presents me with a poem which starts with Est et non (what is and is not). He adds that it is an excellent work. I reply: “I know. It is in this book of poems. Look!”
But I flick through the anthology in vain; I can’t find the poem. So, I take up the dictionary and notice that some of the pages are missing. I am exchanging a few more words with the stranger when, suddenly, the books and the man disappear.
When I awake I am very troubled by these three dreams, thinking that they have been sent to me by Heaven and I begin to try to decipher their meaning.