gall and gumption

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Insomnia Sonnet

WEARY with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide— 5
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view, 10
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

I tried white noise. That works for people? I could get that just from the furnace in my apartment. Or my neighbor warming up his diesel truck in the mornings. I don't get it. No, I tell you what, don't explain how it works, it will bore me.

I did fall promptly to sleep over the first two stanzas of Edward Young's Night Thoughts. So that's promising. It was madly popular in the mid 18th century. I want to know why, and maybe too why nobody reads them now.

I don't have much trouble falling asleep, to tell the truth. I have trouble staying asleep. I wake up at any time between 4 and 6, and then what do you do with those little odds and ends of time? I wish I were one of those people who wakes up before daybreak and brews a cup of organic chai and looks out the window at the neat slumbering flowerbeds and thinks organized thoughts about important things like policy. Or who perhaps spends the time--time that I spend trying to capture that extra hour of sleep that I feel the universe owes me-- composing neat, sparklingly original and timely handwritten Thank You notes. Or poems about their bird feeder.

This is not my favorite insomnia sonnet, though it sure opens well! I love it all the way up to line 6. Then I wonder why this sort of irony reflecting back irony at irony already seems slightly fusty and it hadn't even been around so long. It's like the last 8 lines just keep running back and forth in the same place. That sort of thing is at any rate much more bearable in the sonnets than it is in the plays. In the plays Shakespeare just runs amok. Small but highly select reader John W. called them "pun runs" when we used to teach. The whole sonnet for me is justified by that pair of lines "For then my thoughts--from far where I abide/Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee..."