“Come Sleep, O Sleep” is one of the 108 sonnets published by Sir Philip Sidney in his collection “Astrophil and Stella” published around 1582. The songs and sonnets in this collection tell the story of Astrophil (star-lover), and his hopeless passion for Stella (star). The 39th sonnet, “Come Sleep, O Sleep” tells us about sleep and its effects on men. It concludes with how Astrophil sees Stella clearly in a dream while sleeping.
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Summary of Come Sleep, O Sleep
“Come Sleep, O Sleep” by Sir Philip Sidney is the second of three sonnets about sleep and going to bed in “Astrophil and Stella”. The speaker is unable to sleep, so he invites sleep as if inviting a person, using all kinds of flattery. He praises sleep for all is quality, and for being an unbiased leveler who goes without minding whether rich or poor. Sydney explains sleep to a land of peace and tries to find peace and solace. Further, he describes sleep as a place of escape from the noise, light, and everything that make men weary. Finally, he concludes stating that sleep is livelier than reality, for he (Astrophel) can see Stella clearly.
Form and Structure of Come Sleep, O Sleep
“Come Sleep! O Sleep” is a sonnet of 14 lines. Following the best known Petrarchan or Italian sonnet form there is a shift after octave in rhyme and in the subject matter. In the octave, the poet discusses what all things sleep offers to people. But, in the sestet, he discusses the possible things he can offer sleep it comes. In the concluding couple, he comes to an agreement with sleep to share the image of Stella, livelier in his sleep than in reality. The sonnet is written in Iambic pentameter. Though it follows the structure of a Petrarchan sonnet, the rhyme scheme is of the Shakespearean sonnet form with ABABABAB, CDCDEFEFGG.
Literary/ Poetic Devices Used in Come Sleep, O Sleep
An apostrophe is used in the title itself to make this poem sound more like a conversation between the speaker and “Sleep”. In the first line of the poem, the speaker directly addresses sleep, as if it is standing in front of him and willing not to come. He tries to convince as if one convinces a friend.
In the poem, “Sleep” is personified like a man who makes his choices. At the beginning of the poem, sleep has made up its mind not to come. Poet is desperate without sleep, so he had to uses whatever way sounds possible for him to lull sleep.
The poet has used several “Metaphors” to describe the quality and nature of sleep. The following metaphors like “certain knot of peace”, “baiting-place of wit”, “balm of woe”, “poor man’s wealth”, “prisoner’s release”, and “indifferent judge” are found in the first quatrain of the poem. The poet compares sleep to a judge who makes no distinction while making a judgment. Sleep is equally available to all despite their socio-economical situation.
The poet uses the poetic technique “Imagery” while describing the inviting bed Chamber. It has “smooth pillows” and “sweetest bed”. It is also free from the “noise” and “light”. Ironically, he has everything that is needed for a comfortable sleep, yet he has no sleep. This gives a picture of a man lying in the tossing around without sleep.
In the third line of the poem “Come Sleep, O Sleep”, the poet paradoxically uses the terms “poor man”, “wealth”, “prisoner”, and “release”. The word ‘poor’ lexically means a person who has a little, and Prisoner, someone who is bound by the four walls of a prison. But here the poet remarks Sleep to be a wealth of a poor, and freedom from the world of prison to a prisoner.
Analysis of Come Sleep! O Sleep
Lines 1 to 4
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.
The sonnet Come Sleep! O Sleep begins with the speaker inviting the sleep to come. It looks like the sleep is not coming so he cajoling it to come using a lot of flattery. He uses expensive epithets like “certain knot of peace”, “baiting-place of wit”, “balm of woe”, “poor man’s wealth”, “prisoner’s release”, and “indifferent judge” to flatter Sleep. Sleep seems to be the place that is directly connected to peace. And also it is a place that lulls knowledge and wisdom. In the lines following, the poet paradoxically uses sleep as “poor man’s wealth” and “prisoner’s release”, for it gives them relief from reality. Seep is being a leveler, as death is a leveler in James Shirley’s poem “Death the Leveller”. Sleep comes equally to both rich and poor, to make everything even. Though Rich people can buy a lot of comforting things for sleep, the sleep they get is common.
Lines 5 to 8
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.
In the second quatrain of the poem “Come Sleep, O Sleep” the poet or speaker seems to be desperate for sleep. He calls upon sleep to protect him with its ‘shield of proof’ from the “fierce darts” being thrown at him. Since the speaker of the poem is Astrophel the darts could be the ones from cupid, for he is love, that doesn’t allow him to get sleep. His love for the Stella is causing civil wars within him, so he expects the sleep to come and put an end to it. The fine line shows how desperate he is for sleep because he is even willing to bribe the sleep to come.
Lines 9 to 14
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.
In the sestet of “Come Sleep, O Sleep” the speaker offers smooth pillows, sweetest bed, and a chamber, immune to sound and light to induce sleep. He readily offers “a rosy garland” and “weary head” too. To an ordinary person, this may be a tempting offer but to sleep, they are not. Logically, they are already the properties of sleep. At this time, the speaker realizes that they may not be sufficient to convince sleep. Ultimately, he gets an idea in the final couplet, and speaks confidently to “sleep”, if it agrees to come, he will grant an ultimate reward of seeing ‘Stella’.
About Sir Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney born on 30, 1554, is a well known Elizabethan courtier, statesman, soldier, poet, and patron of scholars and poets. After his formal education, he went traveling in Europe between May 1572 and June 1575. During this time, he refined his knowledge of Latin, French, and Italian. This experience gave him firsthand information on European politics. Having gained enough knowledge of the state and politics, he turned towards poetry. His fame remains with his literary contribution more than his other achievements. He died and buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on February 16, 1587. Edmund Spenser, another famous Elizabethan poet written a pastoral Elegy ‘Astrophel’ on the death of Sir Philip Sidney.