To Sleep

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! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

John Keats, 1816

Some scholars believe that Keats was an opium addict. It is known that at least one of his doctors treated Keats with mercury, attempting to stop a chronic sore throat and, perhaps, venereal disease.

Per one of Keats’ biographers, Nicholas Roe, “It is difficult to appreciate how commonplace an opium habit was in Keats’s lifetime.” Opium was dispensed “as a matter of course, and for a simple reason: it was the only painkiller that worked.” 

Keats had been a medical student and had professional knowledge of what treatments were commonly used to treat various conditions.

While some might demean Keats and his work because of the substances he ingested voluntarily or which were prescribed for him, PG thinks it’s amazing that he was able to compose such incredible poetry despite the effects of the horrible substances that he and others put into his body.

3 thoughts on “To Sleep”

  1. “horrible substances”?
    Keith Richards begs to differ.


    P.S. Please keep in mind that while I am a child of the sixties, and almost all of my literary, and musical idols tried to commit suicide by booze and drugs, I never personally experimented with, and then abandoned, ANY recreational pharmaceuticals. I swear.

    • In British English appending “I swear” in this way normally means that the previous sentence is totally untrue, in fact its reverse normally holds. Is this meaning also true in American English?

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