Monday, February 18, 2013

Wake me up before I go-go crazy

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.
- "To Sleep" by John Keats

It's been a while since I've seen this poem.

It never really spoke to me.

As much as I love Keats, this was never a writing of his that I much identified with. It addressed death so fondly, with so much calmness and acceptance, that I just never felt my heart melting into it like I do so many other works by my favorite poet.

I still don't really go along with the idea of death being a "soft embalmer." If there is one way in which Keats and I differ, it's that I don't welcome death like he did. His life was so full of tragedy, so rife with premature deaths of beloved relatives, that it's no wonder he welcomed the great beyond. Keats believed in some sort of higher being, and I'm sure he believed in heaven. So rather than scaring him, the thought of reuniting with people he loves in death probably enticed Keats. He may have feared death before his pen had glean'd his teeming brain (a quote from "When I have fears that I may cease to be"), but during his later years, and especially in his final months, it was death that was the only cure for his interminable sorrow.

This has never been the case for me, so it's not something I'm going to address. I see death as no answer to life's troubles. An escape, maybe, but to what end? As someone who believes she has a lot to live for, I refuse to even consider the idea of death for many many years.

On the other hand, I think Keats' imagery in this poem pertains to just what its title would suggest (sleep) perhaps even better than it does death. Sleep as the soft embalmer does, in fact, speak to me.

One of my favorite things lately has been sleep. Not because I've been particularly overworked or overtired, nor because I'm in a stage in my life where I need particularly large amounts of sleep. I never went through that stage, in fact. I remember my sister in her late teens and early twenties often sleeping in very very late after having late nights. At noon on weekend mornings I would wonder why her door was still closed, displeased because behind it was the only working computer in our house.

While most people go through a late sleeper stage, I never really became one of those people. I love waking up early. It's one of my weirdest and most confounding traits. Even I don't quite know why I enjoy being up at 7 am sometimes. There's just something pleasant about knowing that the day has just barely started and the rest of it lies ahead, ready to be tackled.

So why have I been waking up at 10 or 11 am these days? Why have I forgotten what it was to want to wake up early?

Well, for some reason early mornings have become the hardest time of my day lately. While going to sleep is a welcome experience, and sleeping itself is calming, being awoken from the sweetness of slumber is like pulling a very sticky band-aid off. It rips and tears at your psyche until all you feel is sadness, loneliness and emptiness at the beginning of a new day. And that's not starting the morning off right.

I love these lines: "Shutting, with careful fingers and benign, / Our gloom-pleas'd eyes, embower'd from the light, / Enshaded in forgetfulness divine".

Though I've always felt connected to Keats in some ethereal and incomprehensible way, this is the first time when a physical experience of his appeared so similar to one of mine. Keats describes the experience of being sad, of shrouding oneself in gloom and depression. But then he continues on to express the feeling of succumbing to the night, of letting the evening take over and erase memories, placing the sleeper into a trance. This is the only time they can live without the stain and the burden of the day.

I've never had much trouble falling asleep. I am not an insomniac. So whenever I've felt worried, sad, angry or broken-hearted, it's rarely affected my sleeping pattern. I'm usually able to let my lethargy drown my emotions at least to the point of letting me drift off. For that I am thankful.

But how it is that I go to sleep each night feeling content, warmed underneath my comforter and my sheets, yet wake up feeling as dejected as ever, I will never understand. It's as though the moment I wake I'm reminded that I can no longer live in the pleasantness of my dreams. I must face what is fact and go on living my life. And that puts me into my worst mood.

Now, in my darkest moments, I truly long for sleep. "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," wrote Keats. To myself, I think of how deeply I long to banish curious conscience, to forget all woes, to evict the burrowing mole.

But unlike death, sleeping has a conceivable end. We all must open our eyes in the morning, and thus the sweet embalmer becomes a rude awakening each and every day. An inescapable one.

It's left me hanging around in bed for several extra hours each morning. Lying in bed and staring at the ceiling feels better than getting up and facing the day. Even if I want to get started with errands or just go on living life in the morning in some fashion, I'm hindered by my own insecurities.

I don't know how to fix it. Keats never had to. He may have suffered heartbreak, but before he could repair it or come to terms with it, he had died of tuberculosis.

I'm lucky that my life will not play out like that. But because it won't, it's also incumbent upon me to make the best of a terrible situation.

So for the time being my goal is to wake up each morning and think of something happy - to remind myself of something beautiful in my life or in the world that makes getting up worth it. It can be hard at times, when you're groggy and your mind is foggy, to think of what there is to live for. But just because I wake up in the morning and don't always know, doesn't mean there isn't something. There's always something to get up at 7 am for. Always.

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