This Shakespearean sonnet comes from a longer sonnet series called Delia where, for the most part, our poetic voice wallows in depression as he sees Delia’s rejection of his advances as acts of cruelty.
Our sonnet, number 45, sees a wish to escape the suffering of day time with the oblivion of sleep. Sleep is addressed directly and asked to take away the pain that dominates his waking hours. However, towards the end of the sonnet it becomes clear that he doesn’t want a dream filled sleep, but rather craves complete escape, going so far as to suggest he really wants the everlasting sleep that is death.
care – worries/problems;
sable – black clothing/colour associated with mourning and funerals;
languish – stuck in a weak or feeble position;
suffice – be enough;
scorn – look down upon someone as despicable or worthless;
aggravate – make something worse;
in vain – without results/empty;
disdain – complete contempt or lack of respect.
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 care, return,
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventured youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn
Without the torment of the night’s untruth.
Cease dreams, the images of 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.
Samuel Daniel (1562-1619)
Unusually for a poet, Samuel David doesn’t seem to have led a very interesting life. He came from a respectable family, did well for himself throughout and didn’t end up killing himself, losing out in love or wasting all his money. He was one of the most successful and respected writers in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.
As I mentioned in the overview, this poem comes from a sequence of sonnets called Delia where, as usual, a guy is chasing a girl and moping about the fact that she isn’t interested. This was Daniel’s first published work and came out in 1592. It reads like it is following poetic tradition rather than mirroring any great event or pain of the poet’s life.
Daniel explores the dark side of love here, by welcoming the oblivion of sleep. However, he is pretty specific about the type of sleep he wants and that turns out to be more like death. Sleep and death are seen as soothing forces that can shut out or erase the troubles of worldly existence.
As a Shakespearean sonnet, this is split into three quatrains and then a final couplet that rounds things off.
In the opening quatrain, our poetic voice addresses a personified Mr Sleep. He gives Mr Sleep his full title in Gladiator-style, referencing his father and brother as the night and Death respectively. He asks Mr Sleep to ease his suffering and to help him banish his worldly worries and misery.
Moving on, he tells Sleep that he has enough misery during the daytime, which he seems to have brought on himself through some disastrous love-life decision making in his youth. However, he then begins to redefine what he is looking for. He explains that he doesn’t want dreams that will spark further hope and desire in the day, calling these ‘night’s untruth’, but wants an escape from all these false hopes that are driving him to depression.
If he wasn’t clear enough, he tells dreams to bugger off at the beginning of the third quatrain. He explains why, the deceptive gits cause hopes that will just make him feel even worse when they turn out to be forlorn.
Well, by now our poetic voice has worked himself up into a really state of misery. The climatic couplet at the end of the poem explains that he wants to sleep with an empty head and wants this to last forever. Permanent sleep of nothingness? Sounds a lot like wishing to be dead to me.
Language and techniques
The whole sonnet is addressed to a personified ‘Sleep’. This enables our poetic voice to explore his misery through pleading for relief. It also makes Sleep god-like in its powers. As a ‘care-charmer’ and a figure that can ‘relieve my languish’, Sleep is imagined as being able to provide some sort of magical release from the pain of life.
However, even at the this stage of the poem (before it becomes obvious that Death is more the poetic voice’s cup of tea), there is a suggestion that Sleep doesn’t have all the skills required. There is something false about being a ‘care-charmer’, as if Sleep is only able to sooth the pain as some sort of trick, but not provide a lasting remedy.
The association between Sleep, night and Death is established early on in the poem. The fact that the poet longs for their embrace suggests the deeply dark nature of his mood. As the ‘son of the sable night’ we also have a connection with death and suffering (sable being a specific colour associated with funerals). Although the poem doesn’t relate his suffering in relation to a death, the link serves to exaggerate his lover’s melancholy into a form of hyperbolic bereavement. This is further achieved with the use of the funereal ‘mourn’ and ‘grief’ in the second and third quatrains.
We don’t get a clear understanding of exactly what has caused the poetic voice’s misery in this sonnet, but there is a hint at the end of the second line. He feels associate with Sleep, night and Death because they are all ‘in silent darkness born’. This implies he feels some commonality and his feelings are based on the loneliness no unrequited love. There is further suggestion in his description of his situation as a ‘shipwreck’, which would be the 16th Century equivalent of a ‘car-crash relationship’ where everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. The fact this happened in his ‘ill-adventured youth’ is no surprise as this sonnet is dominant by the exaggerated emotional peaks and troughs of young romance and passion.
(The fact this is not explicit within the sonnet means that we can generalise the meaning of the sonnet and recognise the emotions as being relevant to anyone suffering any form of depression or despair)
I’d also comment on the oxymoronic plea for Sleep and its darkness to ‘restore the light;/With dark forgetting’. We have the contrast of the physical darkness and the light mentality that the poetic voice wants restored through a purging of his misery in the emptiness of sleep.
Returning to the idea of this poem expressing hyperbolic level of despair, he uses imagery of his ‘waking eyes’ being abused and cruelly mistreated as they ‘wail their scorn’, which represents his self-loathing and recognition of his worthlessness as a result of his feelings being unrequited. He asks for this to be the limit of his suffering and describes dream-filled sleep as ‘the torment of the night’s untruth’. This implies that his dreams relate to his worldly desires and thus represent forlorn hope. The use of ‘torment’ is again hyperbolic and it is as if hope/dreams are torturing him. The poem ends with a description of the ‘day’s disdain’, which again shows just how worthless he feels, as if his failure is a judgement accepted by all the world. In reality, this feeling is confined to his own head as he beats himself up about his inability to get what he wants (that wasn’t meant to sound so crude, I promise!).
In the third quatrain, there is a bitterness to the imperative ‘Cease dreams’ castigating them as ‘liars’ that ‘add more grief’ and ‘aggravate my sorrow’, leaving him even more depressed.
It is almost as if the poetic voice is talking himself out of his initial intention. By the final couplet he now wants to be ’embrac[ed by] clouds in vain’, implying sleep void of dreams, but takes this even further to suggest he should ‘never wake’ The clear implication of a sleep that never ends is that he really wants to be embraced by Death. This suggestion and connection throughout aggrandises the extent of his suffering. By linking his misery to mourning and death, in turn he amplify his love for Delia.
Nothing here that really stood out for me. It is a standard Shakespearean form sonnet, with iambic pentameter throughout, alternate line rhyme-scheme and three quatrains before a climatic final couplet.
Misery, despair, desolation, anguish and depression throughout, with occasional bitterness and anger flaring when contemplating deceptive dreams.