Over the course of the poem, the speaker becomes increasingly distraught about the possibility that their life has been little more than a dream. The speaker initially appears to accept the idea that life is fundamentally dreamlike. They seem so assured of this idea that they conclude the first stanza with a firm declaration of their belief: “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream” (lines 10–11). By contrast, the speaker begins the second stanza in an agitated state, and their distress quickly grows into a full-on existential crisis. The speaker’s mounting emotional turmoil results not from a change in their belief, but from a change in their attitude toward that belief. The speaker’s initial claim about life’s dreamlike reality reflects an objective, strictly intellectual understanding. However, once the speaker is standing on the “surf-tormented shore” (line 13), they arrive at a more direct and visceral understanding of life’s fundamental unreality. The experience terrifies them, and they become desperate for reassurance. But in the end, the speaker understands the truth of their original assertion. Even if now they don’t want to believe it, life really is but a dream within a dream.