Of course this week's Friday poem has to be Keats, and though I like his early poem “Sleep and Poetry,” I prefer this late sonnet “To Sleep.” His ode to the nightingale famously ends with a question that shades all his work: “Do I wake or sleep?” I love that twilit dream-state he evokes so beautifully, especially with unreal words like ‘embowered’ and ‘enshaded.’ (I remember with what ecstasy I first found ‘emparadised’ in Donne). I like his inversion of dark and light: light is harsh and relentless, soothed by the gentle dark.
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.