Sir Philip Sidney

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Can you analyze the language, style, tone, imagery, and themes in Sir Philip Sidney's "Come Sleep!"?

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The sonnet begins with an invocation to sleep, which is personified and given an extravagant set of titles, beginning with those that emphasize the restorative qualities of sleep and continuing to include its levelling effect. In sleep, the prisoner may be free and the poor man rich; it equalizes the high and low.

The second quatrain becomes more personal. The poet asks, in an alliterative line, for sleep's protection from the "darts despair at me doth throw." The reference to "civil wars" in the next line makes it clear that the poet seeks respite from internal as well as external conflict.

Although this is an English sonnet (consisting of four quatrains and a couplet, rather than the Italian form of an octave and a sestet), there is something of a turn in the third quatrain as the poet seeks suitable gifts to tempt sleep. The best gift he can imagine, however, is reserved for the final couplet: It is the image of Stella in his dreams, suggesting that the poet, as well as being weary, looks forward to these dreams of Stella as contrasting favorably with her conduct toward him in real life. The poem that for twelve lines has invoked sleep as a deity ends with Stella—even the image of Stella in dreams—being marvelous enough to tempt the god.

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Stylistically, Sir Philip Sydney's sonnet "To Sleep" is written as a traditional sonnet of 14 lines in iambic pentameter. Like many sonnets, the poem could be divided into a set of 8 lines for the first thought and 6 lines for the remainder. It has a final rhyming couplet at the end, and in this rhyming couplet is the final "twist" that is typical of the sonnet form.

The narrator uses apostrophe and personification to talk to "sleep." Apostrophe is the literary device of talking to someone or something that is not present. Apostrophe may be used when speaking to an abstract concept like sleep or death, or simply to someone who is real and tangible but not present at the moment. The narrator speaks to sleep and gives it many positive attributes. He praises sleep as bringing peace, soothing hardship, and making poor men rich and jailed men free. He says that sleep is "the indifferent judge between the high and low" (line 4). In other words, sleep does not care about someone's status in life but makes everyone equal and can give people what they desire (in their dreams at least, if not in real life).

The narrator wants sleep to come because he wants relief from his despair, and he promises that if sleep relieves him he will give it "smooth pillows, sweetest bed...a rosy garland, and a weary head" (lines 9-11). The imagery is strong in this passage, suggesting all of the best things that we love about sleep and getting into our own beds at night.

In the final couplet, which usually delivers a twist at the end of a sonnet, the narrator says that if all this flattery and all these gifts are not enough for sleep, that sleep should still come to him because "thou shalt in me / Livelier than elsewhere Stella's image see" (lines 13-14). The narrator assumes here that if all the previous praise and gifts have not pleased sleep and made it come to him, that the promise of being able to see his dreams of Stella will convince sleep to come to him. The last couplet does not follow the rest of the rhyming pattern, and these two lines only rhyme with each other, which is a traditional device used in sonnets to draw attention to the final lines.

Thematically, the most prominent ideas in the poem are about the blessings of sleep and how it relieves and equalizes everyone. Additionally, the narrator most values sleep for himself because of the relief from despair that he hopes to find. Most important to the narrator, however, is his belief that his love for Stella is all important, and that this image of Stella is so irresistible that it will be the reason that sleep relents and comes to him.

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