'To Sleep' by John Keats

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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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To Sleep by John Keats: An Interpretation

Oh, what a beautiful poem To Sleep by John Keats is! I mean, who doesn't love a good night's sleep? But Keats takes it to a whole new level with his poetic language and vivid imagery. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the themes, literary devices, and historical context of this classic poem.


To Sleep is a sonnet written by John Keats in 1819. As the title suggests, the poem is an ode to sleep, personified as a gentle and soothing deity who offers respite from the troubles of the world. Keats begins by addressing Sleep and asking it to come to him and bring its peaceful embrace. He then proceeds to describe how Sleep can help him forget his worries and sorrows, and transport him to a world of dreams and fantasies. The poem ends with Keats urging Sleep to stay with him forever, and promising to be faithful and devoted to it.


The main theme of To Sleep is the restorative power of sleep. Keats portrays Sleep as a benevolent force that can heal the wounds of the soul and provide a refuge from the harsh realities of life. He suggests that sleep is not just a physical necessity, but also a psychological and spiritual one. Through sleep, we can escape our troubles and find solace in our dreams.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the connection between sleep and death. Keats uses imagery that evokes the image of death - such as the "poppy or charms" that bring oblivion, or the "drowsy urn" that holds the ashes of the dead - to suggest that sleep is a kind of temporary death. However, unlike death, sleep offers the promise of renewal and rejuvenation. It is a necessary part of the cycle of life.

Finally, the poem also touches on the idea of surrender and submission. Keats portrays Sleep as a powerful deity who has the ability to subdue the will and the mind. He suggests that sleep requires a certain level of surrender and trust, as we let go of our worries and give ourselves over to its embrace. This theme is closely tied to the notion of self-care and self-love, as Keats suggests that we need to take care of ourselves and give ourselves permission to rest and recharge.

Literary Devices

To Sleep is a masterful work of poetry, with a number of literary devices that contribute to its beauty and power. Here are some of the key literary devices that Keats uses in this poem:


One of the most striking features of To Sleep is the way that Keats personifies Sleep as a kind and gentle deity. By giving Sleep human-like qualities, he creates a sense of intimacy and empathy between the speaker and the object of his desire. Sleep becomes a friend and ally, rather than a mere abstraction.


Keats is known for his vivid and evocative imagery, and To Sleep is no exception. He uses a variety of images to convey the sense of peace and tranquility that sleep brings. For example, he describes sleep as a "soft embalmer" that can "bind up the knotted sleeve of care," or a "balm" that can "steep the soul in quietude." These images are not only beautiful, but also serve to reinforce the idea that sleep is a kind of healing force.


Keats was well-versed in classical literature, and he often used allusions to ancient myths and legends in his poetry. In To Sleep, he makes reference to the Greek god Morpheus, who was the god of dreams. By invoking the name of Morpheus, Keats taps into a rich tradition of myth and storytelling, and adds a layer of depth and complexity to his poem.

Sound Devices

Finally, Keats uses a number of sound devices to create a musical and rhythmic quality to his poetry. For example, he uses alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) in lines like "pour the luscious clusters forth" and "charms can make a sullen brain." He also uses internal rhyme (rhyme within a line) in lines like "Weary, with sweet uproar" and "With heavy eyelids, and aching head." These sound devices not only make the poem more pleasing to the ear, but also reinforce its meaning and themes.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate the significance of To Sleep, it's important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Keats was a Romantic poet who lived in the early 19th century, a time of great social and political upheaval in Europe. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the way people lived and worked, and many were struggling to adapt to the rapid changes.

Against this backdrop, the Romantic poets sought to celebrate the beauty of nature, imagination, and the inner world of the individual. They were also deeply interested in exploring the mysteries of the human mind and soul, and the role that art and poetry could play in illuminating these mysteries.

To Sleep can be seen as a reflection of these Romantic ideals. Keats celebrates the power of sleep as a way of escaping the harsh realities of the world, and of finding refuge in the inner world of the imagination. He also explores the connection between sleep and death, and the idea that sleep is a necessary part of the cycle of life.


In conclusion, To Sleep is a beautiful and complex poem that explores the restorative power of sleep. Through vivid imagery, rich language, and powerful literary devices, Keats creates a sense of intimacy between the speaker and the object of his desire, and invites us to contemplate the mysteries of the human mind and soul. As we read this poem, we are reminded of the importance of self-care, surrender, and trust, and of the beauty and power of the inner world of the imagination.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

To Sleep by John Keats: A Poem of Rest and Renewal

John Keats, one of the most celebrated poets of the Romantic era, penned the poem To Sleep in 1819. The poem is a beautiful ode to the restorative power of sleep, and it has been cherished by readers for centuries. In this article, we will delve into the meaning and significance of this classic poem, exploring its themes, imagery, and language.

The poem begins with a plea to Sleep, personified as a gentle and nurturing figure. Keats implores Sleep to come and soothe his troubled mind, to bring him peace and rest. The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, establishing a sense of longing and vulnerability that will be echoed throughout.

"O soft embalmer of the still midnight, Shutting with careful fingers and benign Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower'd from the light, Enshaded in forgetfulness divine"

The language here is rich and evocative, with Keats using words like "embalmer" and "enshaded" to create a sense of comfort and protection. Sleep is portrayed as a kind of sanctuary, a place where the troubles of the world can be forgotten and the mind can find solace.

As the poem continues, Keats explores the different ways in which Sleep can heal and restore. He speaks of how Sleep can bring relief to those who are suffering, easing their pain and bringing them comfort. He also touches on the idea that Sleep can be a source of inspiration, allowing the mind to wander freely and explore new ideas and possibilities.

"Thou hast the drowsy spell of summer seas, Or sounds of hissinging heard in the land of dreams, Or hollow murmurs haunt the twilight breeze"

Here, Keats uses vivid imagery to describe the different sensations that Sleep can evoke. He compares the feeling of Sleep to the gentle lapping of waves on a summer shore, or the whispering of wind through the trees. These images create a sense of calm and tranquility, reinforcing the idea that Sleep is a place of refuge and renewal.

Throughout the poem, Keats also touches on the idea of mortality and the fleeting nature of life. He speaks of how Sleep can provide a respite from the struggles and hardships of existence, and how it can offer a glimpse of something greater and more enduring.

"Death's twin brother, Sleep, One common goal they share, For both alike in that they make us weep, And both can bring us to a better care"

Here, Keats draws a parallel between Sleep and Death, suggesting that both are part of the natural cycle of life and that both can offer a kind of release from the burdens of existence. He also hints at the idea that Sleep can be a kind of preparation for Death, allowing us to let go of our fears and anxieties and embrace the unknown.

In terms of language and style, To Sleep is a masterful example of Keats' poetic skill. The poem is written in a lyrical and flowing style, with rich imagery and evocative language that creates a sense of atmosphere and mood. Keats also makes use of repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, adding to the poem's overall impact.

Overall, To Sleep is a beautiful and poignant poem that speaks to the universal human experience of seeking rest and renewal. Keats' use of language and imagery creates a sense of comfort and solace, while also touching on deeper themes of mortality and the nature of existence. It is a testament to Keats' skill as a poet, and a reminder of the enduring power of great literature to move and inspire us.

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