“To Sleep” – A poem by William Wordsworth

Context: William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is considered to be one of the most influential among the Romantic poets of British literature. Wikipedia states that “Wordsworth was Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850.” In the 1790’s his career as a famous poet started and he wrote a lot of poetry. He also wrote autobiographical parts of poetry. Wikipedia once again: “The year 1793 saw the first publication of poems by Wordsworth, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received a legacy of 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert and became able to pursue a career as a poet.” 

Themes: The major theme of this short poem (it’s considered short since Wordsworth usually wrote lenghty poems) is beyond any doubt sleeplessness or insomina. Follow the protagonist as he tries to count the sheep! We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that! This goes on in the first five lines. As he struggles to fall asleep he thinks of other sleepless nights and sadly there is no sleep this night either. Take notice once again on how Nature is present in the lines. Nature corresponds to the protagonist’s feeling throughout the poem.

To Sleep

 

A FLOCK of sheep that leisurely pass by 

One after one; the sound of rain, and bees 

Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, 

Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;— 

I’ve thought of all by turns, and still I lie

Sleepless; and soon the small birds’ melodies 

Must hear, first utter’d from my orchard trees, 

And the first cuckoo’s melancholy cry. 

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, 

And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth: 

So do not let me wear to-night away: 

Without Thee what is all the morning’s wealth? 

Come, blesséd barrier between day and day, 

Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health! 

Sources

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Internet Archive (Wordsworth)

Early painting of Wordsworth at the start of his career as a poet in the 1790’s.

On Sleep – A monologue from Henry IV by William Shakespeare

King Henry IV on Sleep in the 3rd Act

In this quite lenghty monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the third act of the play; we encounter some thoughts on human sleep. This is portrayed through the voice and charachter of The king himself. This isn’t the only expressed thoughts on sleep that we encounter from the pen of Shakespeare. Sleep is a very human and common activity, but compared to Shakespeare’s own time and place – how often does modern plays and movies linger on this important theme today? Some questions we need to ask this monologue are:

  • What are the circumstances for this monologue? What has happened in the play?
  • Why is king Henry offering his thoughts on Sleep and how can we trace them?
  • Can we sense Henry’s own moods here? Is he happy, sad; or just being thoughtful about himself or any situation in particular?

Answering some of the questions above we see while reading that theking is very worried. Pay attention to the final line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Just as in many other plays by Shakespeare, sleep is also associated with death. Compare the section with some of the lines from the play, The Tempest: “We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” (IV Act, Scene 1) The play Henry IV is not about the king himself, but about his son, prince Hal who is the main protagonist. It’s one of Shakespeare’s historical plays and was finished before 1597.

Text

 

How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Sources

Open Source Shakespeare.org >> Shakespeare’s Pathos by J. F. Pyre. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

 

Henry IV, first Folio 1623.

“The Nightly Secret” – A poem by Friedrich Nietzsche

Context: The German writer and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is perhaps not known as any great poet in particular but he did compose a few ones. In this poem which I’ve translated from German we encounter a narrator with sleeping problems. Themes and motives in the poem are not uncommon for this period.

Themes: Sleep, the Night, Lucid dreaming, sleeplessness. Nietzsche had problems with not sleeping well and in 1882 he consumed a lot of Opium to get rid off his sleeping problems. The poem entitled “Das Nächtliche Geheimniss” comes also with the introductory line ‘Idyllen aus Messina’//idylls from Messina.

 

The Nightly Secret

Previous nights, when everyone slept,
scarcely the wind with uncertain
sighs through the streets,
Gave me peace not the pillow
Still poppy, still, what else make
a deep sleep – a good conscience.

Finally the sleep hit me
Senseless and ran to the beach
It was moonlight and mild – I met
A man and a rowing boat
Both sleepy, Herdsman and Sheep:
Sleepy pushed the rowing boat from land.

An hour, lightly two,
Or was it a year? – there sank
Suddenly my mind and thoughts
In an eternal simplicity,
And an abyss without barriers
Open up: – it was over! –

Tomorrow came: From the black depths
Stands a rowing boat and rests and rests
What happened?
So shouts, so shouted
One hundred soon – what was it?
Blood? –
Nothing happened! We slept, slept
All – oh, so good, so good!

Aiheeseen liittyvä kuva
Young Nietzsche

 

Sources

wikipedia.org

For the German version of this poem published in Der Spiegel, please visit this link.