I want to sleep

Masaoka Shiki

‘I want to sleep’ by Masaoka Shiki is an interesting poem that describes someone’s desire to sleep and how flies are interfering with that.


Masaoka Shiki

Nationality: Japanese

A contemporary of the legendary poet Basho, Masaoka Shiki was an influential Haiku writer and poetry critic.

Shiki is credited with coining the term "haiku" to differentiate this form of poetry as a stand-alone poetic art form.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Peace and quiet are important

Themes: Desire, Nature, Wellness

Speaker: Likely the poet

Emotions Evoked: Anger, Empathy, Hope

Poetic Form: Haiku

Time Period: 19th Century

This is a beautiful example of Masaoka Shiki's poetry and his skill with traditional Japanese poetic forms.

The poem is unique among haiku poems because rather than celebrating the beauty of nature, the poet is describing wanting to get away from an element of it — flies. But, there are many similarities between this piece and classic haiku, seen through the ease of contemplating and imagining the situation the speaker is in. 


‘I want to sleep’ by Masaoka Shiki is an interesting haiku that speaks about sleep and the softness of movements. 

The poem starts with the speaker stating that they “want to sleep.” This provides readers with a lot of detail, more so than it might seem at first. The poet goes on to say that there are flies flying around the speaker, something that is keeping them from sleeping. They ask someone to “Swat the flies / Softly, please” in order to allow the speaker to continue sleeping and not disturb the scene too much. 

Structure and Form 

‘I want to sleep’ by Masaoka Shiki is a three-line poem that conforms to the traditional structure of a haiku. The poem was originally written in Japanese, something that readers need to take into consideration when looking at the various literary devices and possible rhymes or metrical patterns. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet uses a few different literary devices. For example: 

  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses images that tap into the reader’s senses. For example, “Swat the flies.”
  • Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two. 
  • Mood: there is a very distinct mood in this poem. It’s highly empathetic because the poet is describing something that everyone can relate to. 

Detailed Analysis 

Line 1

I want to sleep

In the first line of this poem, the poet begins by writing that the speaker, who could be the poet himself, wants to sleep. They’re only interested in that at the moment and are finding the thought of anything else uninteresting. 

The speaker’s desire to sleep is an important part of this poem. It’s the main image in the first line, which highlights the intensity of the desire, as it is a fundamental human need that is being expressed. The verb “want” suggests a strong and unfulfilled desire, adding a layer of emotional intensity to the statement. 

The brevity of the line also contributes to its impact. The concise nature of the statement enhances the sense of immediacy and intensity, focusing the reader’s attention on the speaker’s primary objective.

Line 2 

Swat the flies

The poet asks that the flies are “swatted” or shooed away (or even killed). This emphasizes the speaker’s desire to stay asleep without disturbance and annoyance, adding complexity to the speaker’s desire for sleep.

The act of swatting flies suggests a state of agitation or frustration, as well.  The flies buzzing around can be a common nuisance that disrupts one’s peace and tranquility in a variety of situations. 

Line 3 

Softly, please.

The final line of the poem emphasizes the speaker’s plea to get rid of the flies. It serves as a plea or request for gentleness, as well, adding a layer of vulnerability and sensitivity to the speaker’s desire for sleep and reminding readers of their need for a calm and peaceful environment.

The inclusion of the word “please” in this line adds a polite tone to the line. It suggests that the speaker is making a humble request, recognizing that they are dependent on others to create the desired environment for sleep. 

This line also emphasizes the importance of minimizing this kind of disturbance and highlights the speaker’s reliance on others to create the desired atmosphere for rest.


What is the theme of ‘I want to sleep?’ 

The theme of this poem is the need for rest and tranquility in quiet moments. The lines of the poem remind readers of how desperate one’s yearning for peacefulness can be. 

What is the tone of ‘I want to sleep?’

The tone is one of quiet desperation. The poet’s speaker wants to rest peacefully, but with the flies bugging them, that’s proving to be impossible. 

What is the purpose of ‘I want to sleep?’

The purpose of this poem is to remind readers of how important sleep is and how simple, small things, like flies, make sleep all the more difficult. 

Why is ‘I want to sleep’ important? 

This poem is important because it’s a unique take on what a traditional Japanese haiku can be. It focuses more on a human character than it does on the contemplation of nature.

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Masaoka Shiki poems. For example: 

Other related poems include: 

Poetry+ Review Corner

I want to sleep

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Masaoka Shiki (poems)

Masaoka Shiki

This is a good example of Shiki's poetry in its exploration of the human experience in the haiku form. It does stand apart, in some ways, from some of his more traditional examples of Japanese poetry in its focus on negative rather than positive or peaceful feelings. But, overall, it is a good example of his verse that should be regarded as a great traditional haiku as well.
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19th Century

This poem is a good, although not well-known, example of 19th-century poetry. The piece demonstrates the brevity and precision characteristic of haiku poetry during this time and in the year since. This haiku focuses on a simple moment and emotion.
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This poem is a great example of Japanese poetic traditions. Japanese poetry often emphasizes nature (as is seen in this poem) and the connection between human beings and nature (also seen in this poem). This haiku incorporates these elements through the mention of buzzing flies and the yearning for a tranquil environment.
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The poem's central theme is desire, specifically the speaker's intense longing for sleep. The desire for rest is a relatable human experience, and the poem encapsulates the intensity and urgency of this desire. The simplicity of the statement "I want to sleep" emphasizes the depth of the speaker's yearning,
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This poem subtly references nature through the mention of buzzing flies. Nature is a recurring theme in haiku and Japanese poetry, often symbolizing harmony, impermanence, and the cyclical nature of life. The inclusion of nature in this haiku underscores the speaker's longing for a peaceful environment devoid of this natural element.
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The poem indirectly touches upon the concept of wellness through the speaker's longing for sleep. Sleep is essential for physical and mental well-being, and the poem captures the speaker's recognition of this need. It highlights the pursuit of a state of wellness and the restorative power that sleep can bring.
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While not explicitly stated, there is an undercurrent of frustration or annoyance in the poem. The mention of swatting flies suggests a potential source of anger or irritation. This subtle hint of anger adds depth to the speaker's desire for a calm and peaceful rest.
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The plea for softness in the poem reveals the speaker's sensitivity and desire for empathy. By requesting others to be gentle and understanding, the speaker acknowledges the importance of caring for one another's well-being.
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Although the poem primarily expresses a yearning for sleep, a sense of hope can be found in the speaker's plea for a peaceful atmosphere. The hope lies in the belief that a tranquil environment can be created, allowing the speaker to find the rest they're looking for.
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The desire for softness in the poem reveals the speaker's need for care and consideration. It emphasizes the importance of creating an environment that nurtures well-being and supports rest. This topic is seen very briefly but is noteworthy.
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The mention of buzzing flies in the poem introduces the presence of insects. In poetry, insects are often symbolic, representing various concepts such as annoyance or the delicate balance of nature. In this haiku, the flies act as a source of disturbance.
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The poem encapsulates a deep sense of longing, particularly the yearning for sleep and the peace it brings with it. The poem captures the emotional weight of yearning, highlighting the profound human experience of desiring something that one has yet to receive.
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Sleep is the central focus of the poem. The longing for sleep reflects a basic human need for rest and rejuvenation. The brevity and directness of the statement "I want to sleep" capture the urgency and intensity of this desire, showcasing the significance of sleep as a vital aspect of everyday life.
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This poem is a good example of haiku poetry, a very important traditional form of Japanese verse. Haiku typically consists of three lines and captures a single moment or emotion with simplicity and brevity, as seen in this piece. This haiku adheres to these principles but rather than focusing entirely on nature, it focuses on the longing for sleep.
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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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