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Analysis of the sonnet 'to sleep' by J. Keats

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  1. Keats' speaker in this sonnet
  2. The speaker's admiration for sleep
  3. The use of light versus dark images

One may get the impression that this poem is about pain and agony and troubles encountered throughout life, yet at the same time one expects a sonnet to possess the qualities of romance, adoration, and themes of love. Although this poem may appear to only deal with dark images about the difficulties of life, I don't believe that it strays away from the traditional notion of a sonnet. In essence, this sonnet is a 'love poem' addressed to sleep. Keats even uses gentle words to describe his affection for sleep, referring to it with the use of personification as a "soft embalmer" (I) with "careful fingers" (II). The images created by phrases such as "Around my bed" (VIII) and "Upon my pillow" (X) offer the impression that the speaker is thinking only of sleep while lying in his or her bed, much the same way one thinks of loved ones when alone in bed at night. Although Keats obviously cannot describe any physical attributes of sleep and doesn't illustrate it as a thing of beauty, he clearly personifies the notion of sleep as something the speaker has undeniable affection and longing for.

[...] Keats begins the sonnet by describing horrid and dark things as gentle and quiet, addressing sleep as the ?soft embalmer of the still midnight? This immediate juxtaposition of images sets the stage for the sonnet to deal with concepts that may seem contrary to traditional beliefs and what we may expect from a sonnet. He goes on to describe the ?careful fingers? of sleep that shut our ?gloom-pleased eyes? and notes that sleep is ?embowered? (III) and ?Enshaded? from light. [...]


[...] Keats earlier used the words benign and divine with positive connotations in regard to sleep, and the speaker begged for his eyes to close because of all his negative feelings. Thus, in context, the words shine and woes do not match with the words they rhyme with, and they therefore ironically rhyme. Even though by definition these words logically rhyme with words like benign, divine, and close, in context they serve a meaning contrary to what we would expect of them. [...]

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