Three Sonnets on Sleep

By George Sterling


Upon the skies of slumber dreams have flight,
    And one from gentlest dreams may wake to weep.
    The dark has moons to sway its utmost deep,
And stars that touch the sleeper from their height.
Ere long, though mute and liberative Night
    Thy soul and sorrow in her poppy steep,
    Her flowers the sickle of the dawn shall reap,
In melancholy meadows of the light.

In vain are Lethe's dews upon the brow,
    Except one find them on its farther shore;
        And he alone has enviable rest
Who sought for peace through many tears, and now
    Whose answered heart a rose is richer for,
        In some old graveyard where the robins nest.


Life holds a different pact with every man,
    Though to one sea her many streams descend.
    To some she stands a foe, to some a friend,
Devising each her benison or ban;
And one is saint, and one is courtesan;
    One labors, one is idle to the end.
    Of all her children none shall comprehend
Whether she strive in madness or with plan.

But Death has one condition for us all,
    And he that in the pyramid's deep core
Lies with the graven adamant for pall,
        In no profounder pit of silence sleeps
    Than he who has his grave by some low shore
        To which the thunder-bosomed ocean sweeps.


Death has the final answer to our cry,
    And past our portals of unrest awaits
    Responsive to our question of the Fates;
And he who would attain that deep reply
Must seal his ears to other sounds, and die.
    What wonder, if before the midnight gates
    The searcher of the riddle hesitates,
Uncertain what those ashen lips deny?

What if the hearer with the pleader cease,
    And thus the timeless answer come unheard?
So he that sought for truth should find it peace,
        In those long silences where none could hark
    The mighty, indecipherable Word
        That fell unfathomed on the eternal dark.

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