"O Sleep! Thou Flatterer Of Happy Minds"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: To be a poet of the Restoration period, one had to be elegant, cynical, and witty. He borrowed from the brilliance of the Cavalier poets whose era of gay, clever, but superficial verse was ended by the dour Puritans by the execution of Charles I in 1649. Charles II, regaining the throne in 1660, ushered in a new cycle where a rake could be considered a gentleman if he were sufficiently aloof and elegant, and his mistress was a fine lady if the relationship was secret and the whole affair witty. Congreve was perhaps the culmination of this literary tradition. His plays were satires with a light touch. Their characters were masters of dazzling repartee. The lines were witty, and the action reflected the manners of the aristocracy of the time. With his miscellaneous poetry, however, Congreve was not so successful. Some of the critics maintained that his muse deserted him when called on to perform off-stage, though the author himself was at his wittiest in conversational groups. Yet once or twice he wrote poetry that might have been signed by Sir John Suckling or Richard Lovelace of the Cavalier Poets. An example is one that he classified as "An Elegy," and called "To Sleep." In rhymed couplets, it utters a complaint to Sleep for not living up to Shakespeare's opinion of it in Macbeth, as "balm of hurt minds," and that which "knits up the ravell'd sleave of Care." The poet declares that Sleep never comes to him. Does it wait only on the successful lover? Then he decides that perhaps his sleeplessness is his own fault, "For oft I have thy proffer'd aid repell'd/ And my reluctant eyes from rest withheld." At such times as he wrestled with his Muse all night to provide a song for–he breaks off. "Let me not name thee, thou too charming maid." Then he has a comforting thought. Maybe she gets the balm of sleep. Perhaps his lady enjoys the sleep he loses. Once more he addresses Sleep. "For her, O Sleep! thy balmy sweets prepare;/ The peace I lose for her,/ To her transfer." The poem begins with a statement of his disillusionment about the gift of slumber.

O Sleep! thou flatterer of happy minds,
How soon a troubled breast thy falsehood finds?
Thou common friend, officious in thy aid,
Where no distress is shown, nor want betray'd;
But oh, how swift, how sure thou art to shun
The wretch by fortune or by love undone!
Where are thy gentle dews, thy softer powers,
Which us'd to wait upon my midnight hours?