Poetry Wednesday: Come Sleep!

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
—William Shakespeare, MacBeth, Act 2, Scene 2

Yeah, so I had this idea last week that this week I was going to tackle John Dryden—who is supposedly one of the Big Three 17th Century poets—because I’d have two days to prep after I arrived home from Cleveland.

But after brushing my teeth three times this morning because that’s how often I found myself in the bathroom with no memory of why I’d wandered in or why my toothbrush was already wet, I’m clearly in no state of mind to debate Mr. Dryden’s curriculum vitæ nor his lascivious and probably sarcastic views of the disintegration of the sanctity of marriage.

Plus, this is my first day back at work in a week, and this morning was . . . fraught.

So instead—and it’s remarkable how many times I end up saying that on Wednesdays—you’re getting three poems (and the quote above) from three of my favorite poets (plus the poetical playwright above) about something I wish I was doing right this very minute now.

From Astrophil and Stella 39
(Sir Philip Sidney)

Come Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man’s wealth, the prisoner’s release,
Th’ indifferent judge between the high and low.
With shield of proof shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts despair at me doth throw:
O make in me those civil wars to cease;
I will good tribute pay, if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light,
A rosy garland and a weary head:
And if these things, as being thine by right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella’s image see.

If you have the chance to read Sir Philip Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella” . . . well, pack a lunch, for one thing, because it goes on for something like 108 sonnets and a couple of songs,  but it’s all very well written and emotionally satisfying—though the modern reader might be forgiven for wishing they’d just get on with it already.

You can always—well, usually—count on Keats for something appropriate to a somber mood.  You’ll notice he managed to work an embalmer  in this one,* though poets in general to tend to equate perfectly good naps with Death, so perhaps he can be forgiven:

To Sleep
(John Keats)

O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

I know this last one is more of a love poem—which is often what you get with Mrs. Shelley when you aren’t getting a horror story with sociological and psychological insight or gothic romances—but it’s a restful love poem.

Oh, come to me in dreams, my love!
(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

Oh, come to me in dreams, my love!
I will not ask a dearer bliss;
Come with the starry beams, my love,
And press mine eyelids with thy kiss.

’Twas thus, as ancient fables tell,
Love visited a Grecian maid,
Till she disturbed the sacred spell,
And woke to find her hopes betrayed.

But gentle sleep shall veil my sight,
And Psyche’s lamp shall darkling be,
When, in the visions of the night,
Thou dost renew thy vows to me.

Then come to me in dreams, my love,
I will not ask a dearer bliss;
Come with the starry beams, my love,
And press mine eyelids with thy kiss.

Now there’s a nap well spent!


*And possibly a coffin, though you could argue that the casket is a jewelry box with a well-chosen suggestion of the grave.  Tomato, Tomahto.