Charles Anthony Silvestri
(1) The evening hangs beneath the moon,
(2) A silver thread on darkened dune.
(3) With closing eyes and resting head,
(4) I know that sleep is coming soon.
(5) Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
(6) A thousand pictures fill my head.
(7) I cannot sleep, my mind’s a-flight;
(8) And yet my limbs seem made of lead.
(9) If there are noises in the night,
(10) A frightening shadow, flickering light,
(11) Then I surrender unto sleep,
(12) Where clouds of dream give second sight,
(13) What dreams may come, both dark and deep,
(14) Of flying wings and soaring leap
(15) As I surrender unto sleep,
(16) As I surrender unto sleep.
Charles Silvestri is well-known for his peculiar talent of writing poems that are eventually put to choral works. He is the author of twenty published works in collaboration with composers such as Eric Whitacre, Dan Forrest, Ola Gjeilo, and Andrea Ramsey, and for groups such as the King’s Singers and the Houston Grand Opera.
His poem “Sleep” was not only made into a band arrangement, a choral arrangement, and a children’s book, but it was also played in space! Along with his celebrated poetry, Silvestri is an accomplished painter.
Alliteration: the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
In the second line of this poem, Silvestri says “darkened dune.” The “d” sound is repeated, and the effect of which makes the lines flow together in a more sing-song, almost relaxing way. In line 12, Silvestri says “second sight,” which is, again, alliteration. The “s” consonant sound is repeated twice.
This poem sounds as if it could be a lullaby. The language is soft and relaxing, and paints the perfect picture of dreaming. The second stanza is almost synonymous with insomnia- having the inability to sleep due to an overly active mind. The “thousand pictures” filling someone’s head before sleep are ringing true to my ears, as it is always hard to sleep when all you can think to do is imagine. Limbs being made of lead in contrast to having a mind that is a-flight is an interesting contradiction. Thousands of pictures fill one’s head and in effect leave his or her head flying between the world of consciousness and sleep. However, his or her limbs are made of lead- he or she is moving on to the land of dreams.
One could argue that the poem has a more distressing meaning as well. “As I surrender unto sleep” is not as simple as it comes across. Using the term “surrender” implies a fight, one so difficult and painful that sleep is the only remaining option. However, the second utterance of this line implies something much darker. “Sleep” could easily be a metaphor for death. In this case, death could be the result of a particularly difficult journey. The author said that after the passing of his wife, he interpreted it in a new way, similar to the way I’ve described.
Surrendering could also be ironic. We know that at the beginning of the poem, a person is reluctant to fall asleep. In the event of something possibly leading to death, surrendering would be much more difficult.
At the same time, it could be a sign of relief. After the lines, “A frightening shadow, flickering light, then I surrender unto sleep…” one could argue that the act of surrendering is an escape from the horrors of life. Surrendering is essentially giving up, letting go of troubles, and trying to end the pain. The implications of the latter statement could be disturbing, as the first thing that comes to my mind is suicide. On that note, limbs being “made of lead” could be symbolic of lack of ability; losing the effort and means to do things is always a sign of depression. The “second sight” could be a new beginning; the end of a life could be the start of a new one- regardless of one’s beliefs on reincarnation or the afterlife.
All in all, this poem can be both extraordinarily depressing and playful- relaxing even. It depends on your mindset when you read it. Someone who is tired will find it soothing, but someone struggling against their own mind could interpret it as a whole different demon.
In this visual, a child is shown sleeping with several images surrounding his body. Several aspects of the poem are wonderfully represented in this visual. In line 8, the boy’s body is referred to as “made of lead.” The feather in the image shows a slight contradiction of thoughts, but it serves a beautiful purpose. The feather is lightening the weight of the boy, bringing him upwards. Also, in line 9, a “flickering light” is referred to. To the very left of the image, a lamp is floating; however, it is unplugged. It’s almost ironic that the image shows the opposite of several lines in the poem.