John Keats (1795 – 1821) seemed to talk about sleep as an answer for both physical and emotional pain. Sleep as a metaphor for death, it’s somewhat cliché. But was this English poet perhaps referring to something else in his poem “Sonnet to sleep” or not?
About “Sonnet to sleep”
In his poem, Keats tells us that there is an escape to emotional and physical suffering: sleep. Some eternal sleep. In other words, death. Or did he discuss this?
In this poem, he finds himself in bed – waiting for sleep. But there is a metaphor ‘hidden’ in the first line of the poem. “The still midnight” is perhaps a new begin. The word midnight can mean that there is a new beginning.
Midnight is that moment when a new day begins. Although it’s dark, it’s a new day. A new day means a new beginning. Still, the poem that Keats left is leaning heavily on this pain.
Sleep is a common metaphor for death or dying. Although it is midnight, it can be a new beginning in another way. To pass on to the eternal. In this case, sleep eludes.
In the poem, there is a reference to opium. The word poppy is a reference to opium. It looks as if the poet turned to narcotics to ease his pain. The pain didn’t go away. There’s still pain.
Sonnet to sleep
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 shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.
— John Keats