The Twangling Instrument
Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. —Miguel de Cervantes
How do people go to sleep? I’m afraid I’ve lost the knack. —Dorothy Parker
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest — 3.2.150-156
Vincent Van Gogh, Napoleon, Groucho Marx, Benjamin Franklin, Cary Grant, Catherine The Great, Charles Dickens, Thomas Edison, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Franz Kafka and Alexandre Dumas all share something with me: insomnia.
(I’m guessing Don of Don & Seymour has the same problem. Listen: nobody makes an album with a sock-puppet unless their judgement has been impaired by serious sleep-deprivation…)
For years, I blamed my inability to sleep on various other causes. Throughout my late teens, 20s and 30s, I simply assumed that is was amphetamines, cocaine, alcohol and satyriasis that were keeping me awake. Now, I know better.
The real problem isn’t the lack of sleep per se. For years, sleep researchers, having deprived subjects of sleep for extended periods, would observe the onset of psychosis-like symptoms in their subjects.
Then they began to look more closely at the phenomenon. What they discovered was that sleep mattered less than dreaming. They allowed subjects to fall asleep but woke them as soon as they began to exhibit Rapid Eye Movement (an indicator of the dreaming state). They kept this up, allowing the subjects to sleep but preventing them from dreaming.
The subjects who were allowed some sleep but were prevented from dreaming soon began to exhibit the same psychosis-like symptoms of subjects who had been completely deprived of sleep.
The researchers soon realised that what really mattered was dreaming. Subjects who were allowed to dream but prevented from sleeping for any length of time exhibited none of the psychosis-like symptoms of those who’d been completely sleep or dream deprived.
So let’s have poems on sleep, dreams or even, if you prefer, nightmares…
Here’s one of mine from an old Poster Poems:
Singin’ In The Dream Rain
Tangled in damp sheets,
I dreamt I was awake
And hunting rainy streets
As if my heart would break.
In the shadows lurked
Oaths and burdens shirked
And solemn words retracted.
Before me moved a crowd
That glided, slipped and shifted,
That called and laughed aloud
And purposefully drifted.
I had no choice;
I joined the throng
As in one voice
It turned to song.
A song of light, a song of air,
A song of time unwrought;
A song to counter black despair
And unlearn what’s been taught.
I woke with a start to leaden rain
My pounding heart said ‘sing again’.
But the song is gone
Could I but remember,
The song would mend all.