To Sleep by John Keats

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 in To 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 Analysis

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.

O soothest Sleep! If so 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 of 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”.

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.

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 the access to a new kind of knowledge. Notice the importance of the capitalization of the word “Casket”. These final lines will give a closure to this wish that the lyrical voice displays trough 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 times.

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  • Avatar Pat Howard says:

    Hi, dear. You might give the reader some background. Why does the poet want to sleep or die? At what point in Keats’ career did he write this poem? Otherwise he sounds a bit peevish. The background illuminates the poem. No-one loved life more than Keats. Death would be a rest from physical pain, among others.

    Best wishes,

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you. It is always really helpful when someone provides us with constructive criticism which helps to enhance our analysis. This message in itself helps to add the much-needed context that really brings the analysis to life. Our writers will usually include context where they can, but it isn’t always obvious. I personally have analysed poems by near unheard of Asian poets where even a thorough google search turns up no extra information! Obviously, quite a bit of info exists about Keats! But it’s not always easy to use that info to add context so succinctly as you just have. So thank you for your response.

  • Avatar Minorkle says:

    I concur with Julieta’s deft analysis. The peace of eternal night has an appeal to our immortal soul.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your lovely feedback. I’m sure she will be flattered.

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