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To Sleep -- Statius

Guest poem submitted by Dave Fortin:
(Poem #1342) To Sleep
 What is the charge, young god, what have I done
 Alone to be denied, in desperate straits,
 Epitome of Calm, your treasure, Sleep?
 Hush holds enmeshed each herd, fowl, prowling beast;
 The trees, capitulating, nod to aching sleep;
 The raging floods relinquish their firm roar;
 The heavy sea has ceased and the oceans curl
 Upon the lap of land to sink and rest.
 The moon has now in seven visits seen
 My wild eyes staring; seven stars of dawn
 And twilight have returned to me
 And sunrise, transient witness of distress,
 Has in compassion sprayed dew from her whip.
 Where is the strength I need?  It would defeat
 The consecrated Argus, thousand-eyed
 Despite the watch that one part of him keeps,
 Nerves taut, on guard relentlessly.
 Oh Sleep, some couple, bodies interlocked,
 Must shut you from their night-long ecstasy;
 So come to me.  I issue no demand
 That you enfold mine eyes with your wings--
 Let all the world, more fortunate, beg that.
 Your wand-tip's mere caress, your hovering form
 Poised lightly on tiptoe: that is enough.
-- Statius
Statius (Publius Papinius Statius) was born in Naples around the year 45
AD. Very little is recorded about his life and most of what is known is
gleaned from his own writings. He lived in Rome most of his life and was
a court poet under the emperor Domitian.  He enjoyed some success in
public recitations and poetic contests in Rome, winning the poetry prize
at one of Domitian's annual festivals around 83 A.D.  However, in 94
A.D. he complains of being unsuccessful at the Capitoline contest,
considered the greatest of the declamatory contests in Rome.  His
disappointment at failing to win the coveted oak wreath, combined with
ill health, lead to his return to Naples where he died around 96 A.D.

As an insomniac, I love this poem. It is one of the few poetic
representations I have seen that conveys the feelings of one who cannot
sleep. The belief that such lack of sleep is against the natural order
of things (lines 4-8); the desperation of the want of sleep (lines 1-3,
8-10); the belief that even a supernatural being would not be able to
withstand the sleeplessness experienced by the insomniac (lines 15-17)
all ring true.  The appeal to the lost sleep of lovers to come the poet
is particularly appealing.

Dave Fortin
At 11:50 PM, with several hours to go before retiring...

31 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anustup Datta said...

Nice poem, but don't you think line 17 should read "Nerves taut" and not
"Nerves taught"?


Haugen Phebe said...

Hi Chris,
I immediately thought of you when I read this really wonderful poem. It's from a web site that sends out a poem every day. I love it.
Love, Pheb

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