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.