Here we are, Part II of our look into the artistry of sleep. This time around, we’d like to share two foursomes of the written word. We’ve found that reading them to yourself or aloud to someone else is very lulling.
Poetry to dream by
Whether verse or prose, straight-forward or surreal, poetry takes you places that are at once familiar and wholly new. They're fantastic for winding down at the end of a long day, slipping beneath the sheets and wishing the world away.
Sleep and Poetry by John Keats
“What is more gentle than a wind in summer?” Those first words conjure such relaxation, it’s no surprise when Keats reveals 11 lines in “What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!” Written late one night at a friend’s cottage, this beautiful, lengthy poem transports you with a lush laundry list of such wonderful experiences and sensations, a detailed description of the room in which he writes and his views of life. It’s a loving tribute to the craft, Keats’ host and life itself. And, yes, to sleep. Of course.
Wynken, Blynken and Nod by Eugene Field
Ah, yes… “the fishermen three.” How could we overlook that? Eugene Field’s deft hand at writing humorous articles as a journalist shows his incredible variety through many light verses created for young ones. This lovely deeply familiar must-have in every parent’s “go to sleep, little one” repertoire delights and soothes to this day. But it’s more than that. While, yes, it definitely is a piece to calm and send a child to dreamland, its whimsy is ageless and we’ll be reading it until… well… until.
All You Who Sleep Tonight by Vikram Seth
This lovely little piece woos us and is — as poetry will be — deeply resonant and emotional. It is timely in a way that hit us as we pulled it out of our collection to share with you. We hope you don’t mind if we bring it to you in its entirety. It’s quick and, yet, lingers in the heart as you close your eyes in the days of now:
“All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hands to left or right,
And emptiness above –
Know that you aren’t alone.
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.”
Thank you for this, Vikram.
Good-Night by Paul Laurence Dunbar
He was the first black poet to gain national attention. A hotel named after him in Central Los Angeles is - like Dunbar himself - a historical landmark. This poem is musical, much like a lullaby and you can sing it, if you like. It was actually recorded as a choral song and is quite lovely. But read it, late at night, over a glass of something warm and soothing, wrapped tight, by candlelight, and “ease thy soul with slumber bright.” Sigh.
Sleepy time stories
More than likely? None of these will be a surprise. We’re sort of purists when it comes to “bedtime stories.” They just work, ya know? And even if you’ve read them to your kids or had them read to you as a child, these four are the ones that just seem to stick and bring sleepy smiles and broad yawns even now.
Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt
This gem with its blousy illustrations, vivid colors and sweet, relatable bond between mom and son is what my own child likes to call a “slow burn.” As you read, you wonder how it will all turn out and relax into the interaction at the end, feeling complete, calmed and well-cared for. And then you close your eyes and believe, in your heart, that no matter how your day has gone, everything’s gonna be alright.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
There is a song sung in this book that everyone makes up differently. What freedom there is in that. And it doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune, the depth and meaning of this book forgive all. It is heart and soul, it is love and family. It is a forever moment in time that carries you on, no matter where you go in the world. Because, as long as you’re living you are either the child or the parent and you rest your head feeling better for it.
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBrantney and Anita Jeram
If you notice, most bedtime stories feature a mother and child. One of the things we love so much about this story is it is obviously the daddy bunny talking to the baby bunny. It’s a great take and an immensely fulfilling POV. The playfulness, the childlike interaction they both share touch our hearts in a way that brings a bit of a tear to our eye. Those last moments as the baby bunny falls asleep and papa bunny ends the book with, “I love you all the way to the moon and back” — such a dad thing to get in the last word. And, oh, what a last word.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
To look at him, you wouldn’t know Shel Silverstein was a quintessential kids author. Bald, bearded, fierce — but his poems and short stories are legendary child fare with a whimsy and warm inner meaning that make for good children’s stories and verse. While there is a plethora from which to choose as perfect bedtime stories, The Giving Tree is our choice. It’s magical, memorable, heartbreaking and gorgeous. Who’d-a thunk a story about a tree and a boy would be so moving? So lump in your throat inducing? But it is and it does it to us every time, and drifting off to sleep knowing the boy finally comes back to the tree makes dreams that much sweeter.
Good-night, sleep tight
Again, there are more stories, more poems, more words to sleep by than the ones we’ve listed here. What you’ll discover is that whatever you love and want to share with your little one, read to yourself, or with someone you love is the one that works best for you. Give it a try. Pull out a story or book you love, one that lulls and delights, and see how quickly you’ll relax into it and drift away.
For now, cuddle up to these simple pieces of literature and enjoy the rhythm of the words, the ebb and flow of the story and…