John Keats, Sleep


John Keats’s tribute to sleep—called, fittingly, “To Sleep”—equates it, winsomely, with death. The poem is an invocation of that state which can be elusive, particularly to those with overactive or anxious minds, or small kids, or, in my case, both. It begins:

“O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep!”

Sleep seems, as a topic, particularly germane this morning, after a night in which our son (whose middle name is Keats), came howling into our room at 4 complaining of horrible groin pain. Investigation revealed a big lumpy bug bite and my husband and I, after applying cortisone cream and inspecting his bed, fretted until dawn about the possibility of its being caused by a brown recluse: a spider found in Arkansan homes, particularly ours, whose bites can (but usually don’t) necrotize huge swathes of human flesh.

At 8, young Master Ravi Keats woke refreshed and informed us that the bite was much better, but we had already started our day deprived of sleep and thinking of death.

So I thought to begin guest blogging on the topic of our ultimate destination, and how to deal with what gets left behind when life moves on. Personally, I hope to opt for composting. One means to this end recently caught my attention. Here’s an animated version of a technique developed by a Swedish company, Promessa. I don’t think you’d need to go to Sweden (nor buy into the Christian iconography) to take advantage.

I think the video lacks worms, but some people think they are icky and don’t like to think of them crawling through our ribs and eye sockets.

“Save me from curious conscience, that still hoards/ Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;” says the old Keats, possibly partially reincarnated in an Arkansan tyke with an Indian first name. “Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards/And seal the hushed casket of my soul.”

Padma Viswanathan's most recent novel is The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. More at her website: WWW.PADMAVISWANATHAN.COM More from this author →