How to Sleep

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June 2010

Nomination: How to Sleep [10 March 1950. From Collected Poems (1988)]

Blessed are those whose heads hit the pillow and then sleep like stones until morning. Most of us, from “convent-child” to “Pope” share, with Larkin, that nightly problem of how to find sleep.

Everything around the speaker is at rest apart from the “keen moon” which stares in a him as he tosses and turns. And although his mind is clear of concerns which may have kept him awake, his body is still restless and not ready to give in, until at last he returns to the foetal position, the first position all of us take, and he reflects on the elements we need to win the battle for sleep. The curled up position is that of the vulnerable or the coward. It says, “I give in”. Even so, it needs the “nod from nature” that ensures we keep to the elemental rhythms of sleeping and waking, and in every sense we suffer a “loss of stature”. Here I’m reminded of the description in King Lear of a man as a “poor, bare, forked animal.” We are stripped of our defining clothes, qualifications and status in the world as we lie there knees to chin with arms protectively closed around us.

I like the poem’s rocking, lullaby rhythm, short lines and easy rhyme. They are an invitation to relaxation and sleep.

Jean Hartley

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