In the speaker’s address of something that isnot a thing, but only exists on a higher level, and is more of a ‘state’, this poem may be classified a s a hymn or an ode, which is implied by the frequent use of imperatives. The idea of a ‘hymn’ is even explicitly suggested in the poem itself, when the speaker classifies his address as such in the second line of the second quatrain. It is significant that it seems as if the speaker had given his speech completely out of hand and had passed it to his addressee.
It is not his anymore, but “thine” (II,2), i. e.the Sleep’s. This indicates that the speaker is willingto give everythingto his addressee- maybe even himself, which is what he would do by falling asleep. This would them mean giving also himself away, devoting hiswhole self to his addressee. Nevertheless there seems to be some deep, underlying, indefineable fear withing the speaker. He seems to be unable to just go to bed, close his eyes and sleep. He has to communicate withm the ‘power’ that is about to tak over, first: there seems to be a deep fear of this unknown, inexplicablecondition he is about to enter.
He has to address it in order to lose his fear. He tries to overcome this by personalising the abstract state of ‘sleep’, ascribing “careful fingers” (I,2) and human attributes like “benign” (I,2) and even will and reason to him, in saying “if it please thee” (II,1). Because of the indication that his speech will be followed by an “Amen”(II,3),it may beassumed that the speaker is praying, which would then change the statusof ‘sleep’. Since a prayer is usually addressed to God, ‘Sleep’ itself would then be moved into a god-like position.
The description as “soothest” (II,1), “soft” (I,1) and the “embalmer of the still midnight” (I,1) would contribute to this view, an underlyinggod-awe in the sense of fearing God, as well as the assumption that God may be seen as an unknown, inexplicable ‘power’ would explain the spaeker’s underlying feelings. This would then allude to several levels. First of all, the speaker is tired and wants to sleep, then again he is afraid of what might happen to him when he gives himself away to the unknown power of sleep.
He seems to feel as if he gave all his power and control out of his own hands and passed it on to something or even someone else, who, in his imagination, can be no one but God himself. He therefore addressed God in his prayer and equals him with ‘sleep’. A deep god-awe doesn then explain the speaker’s submissive tone and his repeated request to “save me” (III,1; III,2). When the speaker begins the third quatrain with this pledge, he again enters another level.
The necessity of being saved indicates being in danger or fear, which the speaker in this quatrain admits being. Surprisingly enough, he admits that he does not fear night or darkness, but the “passed day” (III,1), which gives room for the assumption that the speaker is torn- by inner conflicts or outer conditions. Wanting to be saved from the day’s “woes” (III,2), he seems to be longing for night, hoping to find salvation in darkness, which he already indicated in the beginning, describing his eyes as “gloom-pleased” (I,3) and “embowered from the light” (I,3).
Still, this address “To Sleep” shows that he os hesitating and still afrain to take the last, decisive step and enter darkness by closing his eyesand thusgive himself away to the powers of sleep to let it take over. In the concluding couplet the speaker then seems to have overcome doubt and fear and made his decision. He allows sleep to take over and even assists ‘him’, having “oiled” the “wards” (IV,1). The “casket”(IV,2) of his “soul” is now “hushed” (IV,2), he is calm, peaceful and ready to give himself away.
Considering that the “casket” (IV,2) may also be seen as a ‘coffin’, the couplet- dominating peacefulness also hints at another level that may be included as well: Having seen “Sleep” as a symbol of God, considering the couplet, this might even go further and lead to the suspicionthat “Sleep”, being so powerful might not just be any kind, but ‘eternal’ sleep: death. This might also explain the speaker’s attitude as well as his hesitation.
He’s waiting for the “poppy” (II,3), which is also the source of a drug that may be used for medicine, to throw “ist lulling charities” (II,4) around his bed. A hint at an illness from which the speaker might be suffering, leading to his imminent death. He might therefore even be yearning for death, seeing that his time has come. But for although in this situation, death might be salvation, the speaker is still afraid, so that he tries to pass the last responsibility for making the final decision to ‘someone’ else, offering “if so it please thee” (II,1).
He has seen enough, his eyes are already “embowed from the light” (I,3), but there are still doubts, which is why he tries to play for time in the first two quatrains. He might be addressing ‘sleep’ in order to give himself time to think if he is really ready to go, just as he needs to take his time overcoming his fear. Nevertheless this does not mean thatthe speaker expects anything negative to come. He knows that what is to come is a logical conclusion, which is why it seems as if he had made up his mind from the very beginning.
In fact, it was just not for him to decide, there was nothing he could possibly have done. He therefore only tried to think it over in order to lose his fear, knowing that in the end, ‘sleep’ would come- no matter what. In the time remaining he then tried to do the only thing that could have been done- accepting the situation and find peace. Because of its pledging tone, the third quatrain may therefore be seen as a last desperate effort, considering all possible sides, before finally making the decision- giving in and taking the last decisive step which is letting go.