‘To Sleep’, a sonnet by one of the leading second-generation Romantic poets, John Keats (1795-1821), addresses sleep as a ‘soft embalmer of the still midnight’. Sleep allows us to escape our own minds, when one’s conscience begins to prick us, keeping us awake. Sleep wraps us up in lovely delicious rest, and allows us to forget the world.
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.
If you enjoyed Keats’s ‘To Sleep’, you might also enjoy this fine Wordsworth poem about sleep (or, rather, insomnia).