Sleep is a Reconciling…Poem of the Day, ‘Weep Ye No More’, Anon

 

 

snowy mountains.jpg

 

Weep you no more, sad fountains;
What need you flow so fast?
Look how the snowy mountains
Heaven’s sun doth gently waste.
But my sun’s heavenly eyes
View not your weeping,
That now lies sleeping
Softly, now softly lies
Sleeping.

Sleep is a reconciling,
A rest that peace begets:
Doth not the sun rise smiling
When fair at even he sets?
Rest you then, rest, sad eyes,
Melt not in weeping,
While she lies sleeping
Softly, now softly lies
Sleeping.

‘Anon was a woman’, one of my 1970s feminist badges  said, and  sometimes  that’s true, but in this case the poem  is in the voice of  a man. Like yesterday’s poem,  I’ve speed-read it before, because I have flicked through The Oxford Book of English Verse thousands of times, looking for a poem to read in a group or a class and must have stopped to glance-read this one many times, but I don’t know it, I’ve never read it in a Shared Reading group nor taught it when I worked at the University. So it’s  like a house I’ve passed quite often but never been inside. There should be two different words for those two kinds of reading – fast reading which is like driving in a car, where you don’t notice much, and slow reading, which is like walking (or standing still) where you notice a lot more.

I’m ready to slow-read: I read the first line and some part of memory remembers, as if deeply laid down in the body, what it feels like to sob uncontrollably, to weep hard. Yet the lines have a gentle objectivity about them, as if  the speaker is tenderly watching someone who is weeping, so at first I can’t tell whether the ‘sad fountains’ belong to the speaker or to someone else.

Weep you no more, sad fountains;
What need you flow so fast?
Look how the snowy mountains
Heaven’s sun doth gently waste.

Tears might be fountains – water pumped out under pressure, or they might be the gentle spring-melt of frozen water on a mountainside. There’s a loving calmness in the question and in the mountain analogy. There’s pity. The mention of the mountain makes me remember last summer in Andalucia, where the Sierra Nevada still had snow  on their tops while the sun blasted down. The melt was happening  gently, to use the poet’s word. Behind this thinking I’m doing as I read down the lines, I’m still touched, troubled,  by the power of the opening emotion. And the beloved (‘my sun’) isn’t looking, is already asleep.

But my sun’s heavenly eyes
View not your weeping,

The sadness cannot simply be a gentle melt, as the Andalucian snow under a June sun. No, alone, while the loved one sleeps, the tears are fountains. That amount, that level of crying is serious, even frightening,  yet already the rhythm of the poem is slowing things down. I feel my sobs beginning to subside. It’s like being whispered to, and gently stroked.

But my sun’s heavenly eyes
View not your weeping,
That now lies sleeping
Softly, now softly lies
Sleeping.

It’s as if the poet is finding calm in simply looking at the beloved one as she sleeps. And is hoping for a mirroring – describing her  makes a lullaby for himself. Repeptitions  and internal rhymes are doing it – weeping, sleeping, softly, softly, sleeping. It’s hypnotic.

Then the terrific opening of the second stanza;

Sleep is a reconciling,
A rest that peace begets:

Inside oneself, sleep may reconcile discordant elements. Often, as Macbeth says, sleep ‘knits up the ravelled sleeve of care’. But here it feels like something more, bigger than internal, about their being together: if they sleep at the same time, might they be reconciled? Will ‘rest’ bring them both ‘peace’?  I realise, they have been fighting for hours! I wonder how things will be when they awake in the morning?

Talking to himself as if he were speaking to sleepless fractious child, the speaker, urges ‘rest…rest…rest…’;

Sleep is a reconciling,
A rest that peace begets:
Doth not the sun rise smiling
When fair at even he sets?
Rest you then, rest, sad eyes,
Melt not in weeping,
While she lies sleeping
Softly, now softly lies
Sleeping.

He lulls himself to sleep alongside her, and it’s almost as if he is using her voice, or the voice of someone who loves and cares for him, to do it.

I am struck by the child and adult in him, the levels of self in this poem. To be able to say to yourself ‘weep ye no more’ at a time of terrible weeping, to be able to self-comfort, to get yourself to sleep when sleep is elusive, when sadness or failure overwhelms, that is a skill worth cultivating.

Sometimes I use poems to help me do that,  if night-time worries wake me up. I’m  going to memorise this one for that purpose.

Like many old poems, this was a lyric. It was set to music by the composer John Dowland, and you can hear it here.

I copied the picture from  https://lincolnbrody.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/the-snow-in-spain-falls-in-sevilla/

4 thoughts on “Sleep is a Reconciling…Poem of the Day, ‘Weep Ye No More’, Anon

  1. Jean Riley March 4, 2017 / 10:26 am

    I have enjoyed the thoughtful poems you have shared with us all week, Jane. Your close reading and explanations has been so rewarding.Maybe those words you interpret that give the pleasure could be said to be in the moment and as such a ‘shadow’. But the length of the enjoyment will, l know, be long lasting, Kind regards Jean

    • drjanedavis March 4, 2017 / 11:10 am

      Thank you Jean – glad you have enjoyed the readings. A pleasure for me, too.

  2. tobyison March 4, 2017 / 10:06 pm

    I’ve been enjoying this series very much, thank you. Two things in particular – I really appreciate you sharing the process by which you have selected and read the poems – almost like in real time – it’s very helpful to see how ideas and thoughts emerge. I was also struck by your distinction between reading a poem and knowing a poem (the exterior and interior of a house image). It feels like you are modelling some of the tools to go deeper with our reading and demonstrating the potential rewards of doing so.

    • drjanedavis March 5, 2017 / 11:36 am

      Thanks for writing. Yes, I’m trying to capture what happens when I try to find the poem for the day. So hard to break down the sequence of things that happen in such an unconscious experience – I’m glad it’s helpful!

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