To Sleep

John Keats


John Keats

Nationality: English

John Keats was an English poet and one of the most important of the Romantics.

His work is often compared to Lord Byron’s and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s.

In ‘To Sleep’, John Keats presents a lyrical voice that desires to go to sleep. The action of sleeping will be associated with a place of wellness and calmness in comparison with the troubles of the daytime. Therefore, throughout the poem, there will be a constant tension between the daytime and the nighttime. ‘To Sleep’ will also depict a distance between these two antagonistic spaces that we already mentioned. Furthermore, the action of sleeping represents a new kind of experience that the lyrical voice will evoke and yearn inTo Sleep’. Moreover, the action of sleeping will be a metaphor for death. In ‘To Sleep’, the moment of rest will be similar to a sort of death, which brings a state of pleasure and joy to the lyrical voice. This poem is a sonnet, a variant of the Shakespearian sonnet.

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 shineUpon my pillow, breeding many woes,— Save me from curious Conscience, that still lordsIts strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole; Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.
To Sleep by John Keats

To Sleep Analysis

Lines 1-4

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:

In this first stanza, the lyrical voice evokes the dream directly. The voice talks to the moment of sleep and asks to be possessed by it. The dream is also described as pleasurable and with the ability to keep the lyrical voice from troubles. The daytime appears as a horrid place that can be escaped through sleep. Notice the adjectives and the imagery that surrounds the dream, “soft embalmer” “forgetfulness divine”, and the ones that describe the daytime, “gloom-pleas’d eyes”. Moreover, the movement between light and darkness which correspond to the dream-time and the daytime is also crucial, both for the dramatic and lyrical aspects of the stanza, and the rest of the poem.

Lines 5-8

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.

In this stanza, the lyrical voice calls to the sleep once again. However, this time the lyrical voice is more direct and expresses a concrete wish. Here, the voice asks to be put to sleep by the gentle manners of the dream. Notice the relationship of being put to sleep and the “hymn” and the “lulling charities”. Furthermore, the sleep is evoked here as a metaphor for death. The lyrical voice is a passive agent who waits for the sleep to take him in that compassionate and tender scenario. Also, take into account the integration of religion in that “Amen”.

Lines 9-12

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;

In this third stanza, notice how the invocation to sleep is more direct and more dramatic. The lyrical voice asks the sleep to save him on two different moments. The lyrical voice wants to escape from the daytime, from the horrid things that involve being awake and mentions what would happen to him/her if the sleep doesn’t come ( “breeding many woes”). Also, notice how the lyrical voice mentions the Conscience and how the poem capitalizes that word. Therefore, according to the lyrical voice, having a Conscience, being Conscientious, is one of the most terrible things of daytime.

Lines 13-14

      Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,

And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

The final lines of the poem refer more explicitly to death. Like death, sleep gives the lyrical voice the possibility of a different experience and access to a new kind of knowledge. Notice the importance of the capitalization of the word “Casket”. These final lines will give closure to this wish that the lyrical voice displays through a melancholic and dramatic tone.

About John Keats

John Keats was an English poet. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romanticism. He was born in 1795 and he died in 1821. His work was critically acclaimed after his death. John Keats is considered to be one of the finest English poets of all time.

Julieta Abella Poetry Expert
Julieta has a BA and a MA in Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team back in May 2017. She has a great passion for poetry and literature and works as a teacher and researcher at Universidad de Buenos Aires.

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