Ode To Sleep Question

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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Ode To Sleep Question

Postby Lindsay » Sun Oct 05, 2003 9:12 pm

I'm analyzing this poem for school. Actually I'm comparing it to Philip Sydenys Come, Sleep! from Astrophel and Stella. But I'm taking the slow route of evaluating one at a time.

So I have a few questions

1. Is Keats refering to death in this poem? The use of embalmer & casket and other gloomy words makes me think so.
Or maybe is he personifying sleep through death to add more drama to the poem? Maybe he's doing it to heighten the idea of the Need for sleep.
2. I'm not sure what the meaning is behind these lines:
"Or wait the "Amen" ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling hcarities."

If anyone can help me with those or even offer other insights into the poem I would really appreciate it.

*~Lindsay~*
Lindsay
 

Postby Guest » Sun Oct 05, 2003 9:19 pm

Oh and also I'm confused by the rhyming scheme.

Is it really a b a b c d c e f c g h g h ?? What kind of a Sonnet is that?
Guest
 

Postby Quiet-Breath » Thu Oct 09, 2003 10:54 am

Okay... <cracks knuckles>..

That little sonnet certainly isn't an Ode :) it's just called "To Sleep" Careful, 'cause he wrote another longer poem called "Sleep and Poetry" which compares sleep to poetry. Anyhow...

You picked a little-known poem of his, it doesn't appear in anthologies. I wouldn't say it's inept, but it is very weak compared to his renowned poems. I'm fairly sure it was one of his earlier poems, written before he had really found his "poetic voice." Like much of his early poetry this poem has a strong element of escapism.


1) I don't interpret this as a poem about death. It was written early in his life before he came to make any real statements about life and death. Moreover, if it is about death, it doesn't come to any conclusion about death other than saying "death is nice" and "kill me" (!) -- read the last two lines. Keats didn't have such things to say, although, in Ode to Nightingale, he does say that he has called death "soft names in many a mused rhyme" - maybe this is one of those rhymes where he's calling death soft names. But I don't think so, since it would make him quite a suicidal young poet. And one of the remarkable things about Keats is that he never gave in to death, although his life was full of anguish and suffering; he used poems like this to escape from his painful life. So, properly speaking, this poem is an escape from life (sleep), but it is not death.


Yet, there are obvious references to death in this poem. Sleep is likened to death, but what Keats is really saying is that sleep is the benevolent death of all the day's troubles, a period of "forgetfulness divine" wherein our spirit can finally be put at ease. Thus it removes our pain, soothes it even "(O soothest sleep!"). You are right about him emphasizing the need for sleep, for he describes what sleep saves us from: our melancholy thoughts ("many woes") and our endless self-questioning ("curious conscience", which seems to be most acute just when we're lying awake at night -- it "lords its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole"). Sleep is the death of all these negative things along with a temporary death of our spirit (until we wake up), but not the kind of death that has to do with life actually ending and people grieving, etc.

2.) As for the lines,

"Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities"

They come just before he offers to let sleep overcome him in the middle of writing his poem..... or to come, and wait ("wait the amen") for his approval before sleep spreads its drug-like gift around his bed. (Opium is made from poppy flower, and "lulling charities" translates to "relaxing gifts"). It's just a comparison of sleep to a drug -- both ease one's pain.



What's interesting about this poem is that there is religion in it (he calls it a "hymn" and uses the word "amen"), which is not common in Keats' poetry. Again, it is elevating sleep to something grand; it is almost divine in the way it removes our troubles. It's like heaven. But don't let that fool you - the poem isn't about dying and going to heaven. The last two lines make that clear:

Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.

Sleep is like a death of the soul; as we are drifting off to sleep, we gradually stop experiencing things, stop thinking, we become quiet inside (like a hushed casket) and when we finally sleep it is like a seal on our soul, locked-away in slumberland. When we sleep, everything about who we are (our soul) is buried away very much like a casket underneath the ground, but the lock on the casket is a well-oiled one, because it is always unlocked again when we awake the next day.
"My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk." - Keats
Quiet-Breath
 
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Postby Quiet-Breath » Thu Oct 09, 2003 11:03 am

The rhyme scheme is novel for a sonnet, abab cdcd ec fgfg or perhaps abab cdcd ef gh gh. Two quatrains, a two-line volta, and another quatrain.
"My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk." - Keats
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i agree

Postby twistedbitch » Wed Oct 22, 2003 5:37 pm

awful poem :twisted: :evil:
twistedbitch
 

Postby alicey » Mon Nov 28, 2005 5:53 pm

Quiet-Breath wrote:Okay... <cracks knuckles>..

You picked a little-known poem of his, it doesn't appear in anthologies. I wouldn't say it's inept, but it is very weak compared to his renowned poems. I'm fairly sure it was one of his earlier poems, written before he had really found his "poetic voice." Like much of his early poetry this poem has a strong element of escapism.


1) I don't interpret this as a poem about death. It was written early in his life before he came to make any real statements about life and death. Moreover, if it is about death, it doesn't come to any conclusion about death other than saying "death is nice" and "kill me" (!) -- read the last two lines.


Actually, I can't help but think you're wrong about this poem. It was written in April 1819, and this was very much in a period of life when he was well aware of his impending death, and also when he had found his poetic voice. Also, IMO, I think it's very well written, even if it's not well known, as there are multiple layers of meaning to the poem. It's really touching and very much sad, but I think it also demonstrates Keats' willingness to accept that death is his destiny and a comfort, as it will take him away from his suffering from tuberculosis, a horrible disease that also claimed his mother and brother. It's a short poem, but very tightly written. You really have to consider the multiple meanings of the words in the poems-- e.g., "embalmer" that appears in the first line. Embalmer refers to a person who puts preservatives in a corpse to prevent the body from decaying, thus making it immediately obvious that the poem is about death, but embalm can also be seen as a positive word. Embalm can mean to impart fragrance or to perfume the air. So sleep as an "embalmer" can be viewed as something that makes the night sweeter. Also, if you look at "balm" from that word, a balm is a soothing, healing or a comforting agent, and that is also applicable to sleep, and in Keats' instance, death. Yikes, I really went off on a tangent, didn't I? Well, there's a lot more to the poem that you can figure out for yourself if you like. :)

Anyway... Just my two cents! Not trying to cause any trouble! We can all agree to disagree, right? :)
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