Written with the intention of inspiring other children to get to bed quickly, ‘The Race To Get To Sleep’ by Edgar Award-winning author Brian Patten is an amusing and upbeat depiction of such a race. The poem utilizes over the top language and an abundance of exclamatory statements to create an engaging atmosphere of good-natured competition.
In the first lines of ‘The Race To Get To Sleep,’ the speaker begins by starting the race. The two children, Penny and Matthew are both on their way to bed. They strip off their socks and trousers and run to the bath. Together they jump into the water, seen through the use of enjambment leading up to the onomatopoeic word “Splash!”
By the end of the poem, they’re both in the pajamas and racing into the bedroom. They make it into bed at the same exact time and the speaker declares this race to be the “hardest ever”.
You can read the full poem The Race To Get To Sleep here.
‘The Race To Get To Sleep’ by Brian Patten is a twenty-eight line poem that doesn’t follow a specific rhyme scheme, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t instances of rhyme within the text. Patten makes use of slant and internal rhyme within ‘The Race To Get To Sleep’. The former, also known as half-rhyme can be seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. Internal rhyme is also present in the poem. It is not constrained to the end of the lines but can appear anywhere.
Patten makes use of several other poetic techniques in ‘The Race To Get To Sleep’. They include repetition, anaphora, enjambment, and alliteration. The latter, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “both” and “bath” in line sixteen and “whole world” in line twenty-eight.
Patten also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, the use and reuse of “She’s” in lines nine, ten, and eleven. Another example that’s more spread out is “They’re”. It appears at the beginning of a total of five lines.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The most obvious instance of this technique in action is the transition between lines fifteen and sixteen when a reader has to wait to find out which child makes it into the bath first.
It’s impossible to ignore the overwhelming use of exclamation points in ‘The Race To Get To Sleep’. It’s clear the poet wanted to make each line feel exciting and keep a reader on the edge of their seat as they follow each step of this race. There is also an interesting contrast created with the over the top excitement the poet sought to create and the subject matter itself. Racing to get to bed, especially for children, is not the most exciting race to follow or engage in.
That being said, and taking into consideration the fact that this piece was meant for a young audience, this contrast appears to be the point. It is likely Patten wrote this piece with the intention of making something boring and mandatory to feel exciting and enviable.
Analysis of The Race To Get To Sleep
In the first lines of ‘The Race To Get To Sleep,’ the speaker begins by announcing the start of a race. In the second line the two children, Matthew and Penny, are “off!!” They race through the house kicking off their “shoes” and “jumper[s]”. They tear at their clothes somewhat violently, “ripping” off “trousers” and one sock and then the other. The speaker jumps back and forth between the two children, placing one in the lead and then the other. First, Matthew is winning, but very quickly he falls behind.
Repetition is one of the most prominent techniques in this work. The children’s names are very obviously used over and over within the poem. But individual lines, just as line six, also use words multiple times.
The next set of lines see the kids finish taking off their clothes. It appears the girl, Penny, is in the lead and the speaker follows her. She heads out of the room and upstairs. But, the boy, Matthew, is “right behind her”. The two are obviously very desperate to be first to enter and exit every room. They also want to be the first to make it into the bathroom and into the bath. Patten attempts to create some tension through the uncertainty of who is first at any one moment.
There is a “hitch” in their race while the two children are in the bath. They both get soap in their faces. Matthew gets it in his “eyes” and Penny in her “nose”. The kids struggle through this setback and are momentarily distracted.
In the twentieth line, the speaker says that the two are “stalling,” or somehow wasting time and getting distracted from the fact that they’re supposed to be racing. Luckily, things turn around quickly and using alliteration, the speaker says that they are “neck and neck” getting out of the bath. In a very rhythmically even line, the speaker alternates between Penny and Matthew being in the lead. She is the first “on with her pyjamas” headed into the last section of lines.
In the last four lines of ‘The Race To Get To Sleep,’ the two children make it into bed at what seems to be the exact same time. An apparent secondary requirement of the race is that they both stay “absolutely quiet” once in bed. In the last line the speaker adds that this is the “hardest race in the whole world!!”
Obviously, this line, along with the rest of the poem, was crafted to entertain a young reader. There is a double meaning though as the race might be physically hard to win, it’s also mentally hard to engage in as neither child likely wants to go to sleep.