Guest poem submitted by David Nothnagle: This is my favourite poem by my favourite poet, who is sadly under-represented on your site:
(Poem #1009) Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night (Delia LIV)
Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night, Brother to death, in silent darkness born: Relieve my languish, and restore the light, With dark forgetting of my cares' return And let the day be time enough to mourn, The shipwrack of my ill-adventur'd youth: Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn, Without the torment of the night's untruth. Cease Dreams, th'imagery of our day desires, To model forth the passions of the morrow: Never let the rising Sun approve you liars, To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow. Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain; And never wake, to feel the day's disdain.
I have always really loved short poems--poems of which it is possible to experience every word, every line, with more intensity than is really possible (for me anyway) in a longer poem. Of course, this means that every word, every line, is really important, and makes a short poem very difficult to write well. However, a good short poem will always have a certain special intensity. This sonnet by Samuel Daniel approaches perfection of form. It is, of course, a sonnet, of the English variety; made up of three quatrains and a couplet, in iambic pentameter. A good sonnet will build up feeling in the quatrains, each delving a little deeper, and reachng a climax and resolution, a summing-up, or sometimes an ironic "turn," in the final couplet. In this particular sonnet, the "turn" reveals that the true, subconscious desire of the poet is for the oblivion of death. Sonnet form is a particularly good medium for delving ever deeper into feelings, and it is no fluke that it remained a form of choice, in its various varieties, throughout England and Western Europe, for hundreds of years. In the last couple of centuries, however, this kind of strictness of meter and rhyme has slowly fallen out of favour, as the Romantic hatred of classical forms, and wild lust for "originality" has become ever more extreme. Mark Twain famously ridiculed poems in which the only image evoked is a dried-up little man sitting in a dusty chamber, counting off on his fingers as he writes. However, there is a certain special kind of originality, which is only possible within constraints and conventions. For me, and I suspect for many, it is easier to have a more focused grasp of a poem, and appreciation its unique virtues, if it is written in a form we understand, rather than something which is altogether alien to us. As for this poem itself, I have nothing to add to it, and don't know what to say. Anyone who has ever felt depressed for any reason, will understand it. Most of the sonnets in Delia are about the Lady's cruelty to her unrequited lover; and this sonnet can be read with that in mind, but I think it achieves a kind of universality which transcends this context. Never has depression--the sort of depression that causes you to lie in bed late into the day, calling in sick to work, dreading the inevitable time when you must leave your bedroom and face whatever it is that has caused you such anguish--never has depression been more perfectly captured in poetic form. I should add that there is a great musical setting of this poem in the twentieth-century composer Dominick Argento's song-cycle, "Six Elizabethan Songs." Dave Nothnagle.