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On a poet’s lips I slept
Dreaming like a love-adept
In the sound his breathing kept;
Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses,
But feeds on the aërial kisses
Of shapes that haunt thought’s wildernesses.
He will watch from dawn to gloom
The lake-reflected sun illume
The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom,
Nor heed nor see what things they be;
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality!
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Prometheus Unbound)
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Kraken”)
Encinctured with a twine of leaves,
That leafy twine his only dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits,
By moonlight, in a wilderness.
The moon was bright, the air was free,
And fruits and flowers together grew
On many a shrub and many a tree:
And all put on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy air
Like a picture rich and rare.
It was a climate where, they say,
The night is more belov’d than day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil’d,
That beauteous Boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent and so wild—
Has he no friend, no loving mother near?
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Wanderings of Cain)
Midnight’s bell goes ting, ting, ting, ting, ting,
Then dogs do howl, and not a bird does sing
But the nightingale, and she cries twit, twit, twit;
Owls then on every bough do sit;
Ravens croak on chimneys’ tops;
The cricket in the chamber hops;
The nibbling mouse is not asleep,
But he goes peep, peep, peep, peep, peep;
And the cats cry mew, mew, mew,
And still the cats cry mew, mew, mew.
(Thomas Middleton, from Blurt, Master Constable)
[...] But that night
When on my bed I lay, I was most moved
And felt most deeply in what world I was;
With unextinguished taper I kept watch,
Reading at intervals. The fear gone by
Pressed on me almost like a fear to come.
I thought of those September massacres,
Divided from me by a little month,
And felt and touched them, a substantial dread
(The rest was conjured up from tragic fictions,
And mournful calendars of true history,
Remembrances and dim admonishments):
‘The horse is taught his manage, and the wind
Of heaven wheels round and treads in his own steps;
Year follows year, the tide returns again,
Day follows day, all things have second birth;
The earthquake is not satisfied at once”—
And in such way I wrought upon myself,
Until I seemed to hear a voice that cried
To the whole city, “Sleep no more!”
(William Wordsworth, from The Prelude (1805), Book 10: Residence in France and French Revolution)
She sleeps on soft, last breaths; but no ghost looms
Out of the stillness of her palace wall,
Her wall of boys on boys and dooms on dooms.
She dreams of golden gardens and sweet glooms,
Not marveling why her roses never fall
Nor what red mouths were torn to make their blooms.
The shades keep down which well might roam her hall.
Quiet their blood lies in her crimson rooms
And she is not afraid of their footfall.
They move not from her tapestries, their pall,
Nor pace her terraces, their hecatombs,
Lest aught she be disturbed or grieved at all.
(Wilfred Owens, “The Kind Ghosts”)
What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
That stays one moment in an open flower,
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
More secret than a nest of nightingales?
More serene than Cordelia’s countenance?
More full of visions than a high romance?
What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses!
Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise.
(John Keats, from “Sleep and Poetry”)
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
(William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 43”)
Modern rendering of VIII. (Mine)
When I close my eyes, then they see the best,
Because all day they have to see things they don’t care about;
But when I’m asleep, in dreams they see you,
And in secret, light up with joy looking at your hazy image.
But you, whose even imagined image makes all my despairs happier (brighter),
How much more would that image’s real form be a happy sight
In the bright day, with your even brighter light,
When to closed eyes it shines so!
How much more, I mean, would my eyes be fortunate
In seeing you in the living day,
When in the dead night your beautiful, but fake apparition
In deep sleep on my unseeing eyes remains!
All days are like nights to me until I see you
And nights are bright days, when dreams show you to me.
Bibliography of Sources
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Britten, Benjamin. The Complete Orchestral Song Cycles. Felicity Lott, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Philip Langridge, Ann Murray, singers. Frank Lloyd, horn. Steuart Bedford, cond. English Chamber Orchestra. Northern Sinfonia. Digital disc. Collins, 70372, 1994.
——-. “Mapreading,” interview with Donald Mitchell, the Britten Companion, 87-96.
——-. Nocturne. For tenor solo, seven obligato instruments and string orchestra. Op. 60. Sheet music in full score. Hawkes Pocket Scores. London: Boosey & Hawkes, 1959.
——-. ——-. Sheet music in piano reduction score. Ed. Imogen Holst. London, Boosey & Hawkes, 1959.
——-. “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal.” For tenor, horn and strings. Sheet music in full score. Ed. Colin Matthews. London: Boosy & Hawkes, 1989.
——-. Serenade for tenor, horn and strings-Les Illuminations-Nocturne. John Mark Ainsley, tenor. David Pyatt, horn. Nicholas Cleobury, cond. Britten Sinfonia. Digital disc. Classics for Pleasure (EMI) 724357556323 , 2002.
——-. Serenade-Les Illuminations-Nocturne. Peter Pears, tenor. Barry Buckwell, horn. The London Symphony Orchestra. The English Chamber Orchestra. Digital disc. Decca 417 153-2, 1970.
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——-. The Britten Companion. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.
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