Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sleep - Charles Anthony Silvestri/Eric Whitacre

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head.
I cannot sleep, my mind's aflight,
And yet my limbs seem made of lead.

If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light...
Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight.

What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.

I know this text from the Eric Whitacre piece, "Sleep."  It's a sublimely beautiful piece which I have had the pleasure of performing in the past.  What I did not know was that originally, the piece was meant to be a setting of Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."  Apparently refused permission to use the seminal poem for his setting, Whitacre turned to a poet friend of his who has written lyrics for many of his compositions, and the result is wonderful.

The simple rhymes of the poem and its lilting cadence mimic the feeling of falling asleep, particularly the repeated final line, spoken almost like the last, trailing off words of a person slipping into sleep.  The simple rhymes put me in mind of a lullaby.  The rhyme scheme, AABA, BBCB, CCDC, DDDD, is very predictable and comforting. 

The only line that trips me up is the brief Hamlet quote, "What dreams may come."  In Hamlet, this is a reference to "But in that sleep what dreams may come?" where Hamlet ponders the eternal sleep we all face.  This poem seems almost too calming and too innocuous to be about the great After, but maybe that's the point.  If "clouds of dreams give second sight" then surely the afterworld would fit that bill as well.  The music is of course brilliant, creating a peaceful atmosphere despite strong dissonances throughout.  That is Whitacre's gift, which I will now let you enjoy.


  1. absolutely beautiful, both your interpretation and history of the poem used and set to music as well as the actual performance. Perhaps it may be the poem within the poem of Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening as at times a painting is found under a painting ages after. I am at any rate glad to contain in my mind simultaneously both poems while listening to the music.

  2. The excerpt below is from Charles Anthony Silvestri's website who wrote the poem replacing Frost's:

    "...since then the work has been performed and recorded endless times. It has taken on a meaning more “dark and deep” for me since the death of my wife. Now when I hear the piece I think of her, especially in the final moments of her fight against ovarian cancer, during which she understandably would not surrender. The choral setting is the soundtrack to the passing I wish she had been able to have."


    I think your interpretation of Hamlet's words are right on.