Ode to sleep

Ode to sleep

Between the years 1785 and 1790 Thomas Warton was the Poet Laureat of England. This poet, critic and literary historian was one of the Grayeyard poets. This is his poem Ode to sleep.

Graveyard poets

Just before the Romantic period started in England, there was a group of poets we now know as the Graveyard poets. They are sometimes called the Churchyard poets. Their work consisted of gloomy meditatations about the mortality of humankind. Their poems call on the wish to see something sublime, uncanny and with an authentic view on poetry. They made the way for the Romantic poets.

About the poet

Thomas Warton was such a preparer. He was born on January 9 1728 in Basingstoke (Hampshire, England). He was the son of the poet Thomas Warton. Therefore he is sometimes called Thomas Warton the younger. His father is called Thomas Warton the elder. Warton junior showed his writing talents in an early part of his life. At seventeen he wrote his most important work: The pleasures of melancholy. One year after he started his study at Winchester College. Later on he transferred to Trinity College (Oxford), where he graduated in 1747. He would become the Poet Laureate of Oxford in 147 and 1748. He was to write a poem about the patroness of the University. This poem was being read on a special occasion.

In 1757 Warton became a professor. In 1771 he was appointed as the rector of Kiddinton in Oxfordshire. He would stay in function until his death (May 21 1790). During that period he was one of the leading figures responsible for the revival of the ballad.

Ode to sleep

By Thomas Warton


Ode to sleep

On this my pensive pillow, gentle Sleep!
Descend, in all thy downy plumage drest:
Wipe with thy wing these eyes that wake to weep,
And place thy crown of poppies on my breast.


O steep my senses in oblivion’s balm,
And sooth my throbbing pulse with lenient hand;
This tempest of my boiling blood becalm!
Despair grows mild at thy supreme command.


Yet ah! in vain, familiar with the gloom,
And sadly toiling through the tedious night,
I seek sweet slumber, while that virgin bloom,
For ever hovering, haunts my wretched sight.


Nor would the dawning day my sorrows charm:
Black midnight and the blaze of noon alike
To me appear, while with uplifted arm
Death stands prepar’d, but still delays, to strike.


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