Over-sleeping

prob boug
Bougainvillea outside a Venetian Empire dwelling in Perast, Bay of Kotor, 15 July

Last night, after a hard day at the beach, where I’d swum, eaten, drunk, read but, mostly, slept for about 7 hours,  stopping only to buy some eggs and some insect bite cream,  I made my way back home to Perast, watched one episode of Due South (of which perhaps there will never be another mention here) and then fell asleep, reading Granta Best New Young American Novelists 3, at about 10.00pm.

Some readers have  sussed my nocturnal (English, workaday)  habits – bed by 10.00pm up by 5.00am …but readers, things are very different here. I woke this morning at 8.10am.

O.k., this ancient Venetian waterside building (Perast was a major town in the Venetian republic) has two foot deep silencing walls, and thick wooden shutters keep almost all light out, and the noise of the air-con makes you think, if you do  rise up into consciousness, that it’s pouring with rain so you may as well go back to sleep… but even so,  ten hours sleep in one night? after a day where I probably slept for  another four in that waterside shade?

As I stumbled towards my coffee, the opening lines of this poem by Samuel Daniel came into my mind, so I decided to read it this morning.

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 shipwreck 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 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.

Reading it now,  it feels as if I have never read it before. I know the opening line off by heart and then –  nothing. But that’s not true, I know I have read this before.  Even so, I’ve lost it – don’t understand it, by line 6 am all at sea, except for the feeling of mess, mess. And a sense of  ‘this isn’t me’ :  whatever I’ve been in – long complicated interconnected dreams  of the sort I rarely  have at home – complete rest, black out of consciousness, it doesn’t have the same flavour as Daniel’s poem.  But never mind that… let me just read it.

The sonnet is made up of just two sentences, and my  first instinct is to read the first whole sentence to  get the run of the thing – what ‘s it about. But that is hard:

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 shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.

I read a couple of times, trying to follow the movements of thought. The first two lines are an address, they name and place ‘Sleep’ as a type of thing. Sleep is a ‘care-charmer’ –  I think of a snake charmer – of  the power to make something dangerous behave in ways it might not otherwise do. I’m thinking of cares as snakes, the dangerous things that might hurt. Sleep is ‘son of the sable night’, that is to say (unlike me) Daniel doesn’t sleep by day. Sable is  a word for black: only under cover of darkness does sleep appear. And when sleep does appear, then Daniel’s thought connects it with death, ‘Brother to Death, in silent darkness born’.  I stop here to think on this for a while. Think of my long night’s sleep, my almost passing out sleep in the shade at the waterside.  Sleep is like death in that you may lose consciousness, go as it were ‘out’. Not when full of dreams, as I was last night. But sleep like blackout, yes, perhaps it is brother to death.

Having thought these thoughts about what sleep is,  Daniel  then asks sleep to come to him in order to

Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:

great moves between light and dark here, between consciousness and lack of consciousness, knowing and forgetting. I read all four lines but only to get the  pattern of it, the  rhythm. actually I only need to read the first two, where Daniel asks sleep to

Relieve my languish, and restore the light,
With dark forgetting of my cares, return;

The rich rhyme of  ‘languish‘ and the implied echo word ‘anguish‘ is terrific: you get both meanings in one word.  But it is the movement  between ‘dark’ and ‘light’ which is most powerful, because inverted:  going to sleep, being put out of consciousness feels to Samuel Daniel like ‘restore the light’ – it is absence of pain, ‘with dark forgetting of my cares’.

But then the word ‘return’ on the end of the line! The three words beginning with ‘r’ make a kind of wish-list:  relieve, restore, return.  If sleep would come and blot out consciousness, returning, it would both relieve and restore.

And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.

Day, when we have  consciousness, is long enough to know, ‘to  mourn/The shipwreck of my ill-adventured youth’

(Struck in passing by ‘shipwreck’, a word i know from John Clare’s poem of human desperation, I Am. Clare speaks of ‘the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems’. I wonder here,  is this word consciously picked up from Samuel Daniel – did Clare read him?  or is shipwreck a  common metaphor – as  the word ‘car-crash’ might be for us? If  I had time I might out of interest look this up. I  like knowing  which poets read each other.)

going back to the poem and re-reading  those last four lines, I realise I do not understand the line ‘without  the torment of the night’s untruth’. I reread the whole poem, to  get another, longer run at it.

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 shipwreck 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 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.

Is  the night’s untruth looking forward in what is going to come next?

But time is up for today. I’ll finish reading this tomorrow.

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