Monday, March 19, 2012


This week in class we are learning how to analyze Poetry. This blog entry is regarding the poem I choose which is, "Variation on the Word Sleep" by Margaret Atwood published in 1981. This is my interpretation:

     This poem is written in open form and it is made up of four stanzas. Throughout the poem the speaker refers to herself/himself as "I" and their beloved as "You". This makes it a bit confusing to describe so please bare with me...

      The first stanza starts off with the speaker stating the desire they have to watch their loved one sleeping. The speaker wants to be engulfed by their beloved's unconscious and travel through the journey of the dream. He/She then describes the beautiful settings as they enter and go forward. The second stanza is the description of a colorful scene which is in a forest/woods. The way the description is given of the sun, it seems as if they are in a bubble of water looking up and that's why the sun appears to be in a "watery" or wavy shape. They continue towards a cave where he/she will follow their beloved as they go down deeper and face the beloved's fear. The third stanza describes the speaker's desire to be the force of protection or shield that will save their beloved of all the grief they must come face to face with in the center.  He/she would like to follow their loved one as the they go up the stairway that will lead them up and where he/she will become the boat that will take them back to safety. Then he/she describes an image of a fire being cupped in his/her own hands that will illuminate the way back to where their bodies lay asleep. The stanza ends with them entering back into their own bodies as air fills your lungs. The fourth and final stanza shows how the speaker wants to be the oxygen that flows deep in their beloved's lungs briefly and then is released. The poem ends with the line that shows how much the speaker cares for and loves their beloved because he/she wants to be a part of them forever without being in the way. There is a sense of sadness in the end because they want to be needed as oxygen but in a way they want to be invisible.

     This poem is beautiful and it is about a love that is so strong and pure for the other person. The speaker is the person who is in love and the audience is the person with whom the speaker is in love with. This poem can also be interpreted as a secret love, where the audience is not aware of the speaker's feelings towards them.

     The tone in this poem feels like longing. The speaker throughout the whole poem has this desire and love that they wish to fulfill, although it is unrealistic. This also makes the reader feel compassion towards the speaker's yearning and desire.

     Margaret Atwood skillfully uses imagery to depict the journey the speaker is traveling through. There are many examples, here are a few:
  • "to enter your sleep as its smooth dark wave slides over my head"
  • "lucent wavering forest of bluegreen leaves with its watery sun and three moons"
  • "a flame in two cupped hands to where your body lies beside me"
     There is also a nice example of personification when she says, "& become the boat that would row you back carefully."

Here is a list of a few key words that stand out of the poem:
  • Sleep-- symbolizes the state of unconscious, portal to the dream realm, and also peacefulness. 
  • Wave--symbolizes transportation into the unconscious, it can also mean time and how its setting is somewhere between sleep and awake.
  • Cave--represents darkness, unknown territory, can even symbolize hell in the dream. Something to fear because of the unfamiliarity.
  • Boat--indicates a means of travel, and the cradling in the ocean can represent the soothing feeling that the speaker is giving to the the audience while he/she brings them back to safety.
  • Flame---represents light and the ability of the speaker to bring back his/her beloved back to their bodies. It can also represent life and consciousness out of the darkness that the unconscious brings.
  • Breathing--represents air and oxygen which are essential for our lives to continue. Breathing also symbolizes life and transparency which is how the speaker wants to be seen, as a necessity without being presently noticed.
     Of all the other poems that we have discussed in class, the one that I can compare or contrast with this poem is the one of Rupert Brooke, "Sonnet Reversed." The reason why I choose this one is because Brooke's poem is this one is also about love and marriage. In this poem the love affair was short and brief. However, in Atwood's poem her's is about lasting love because of the fact that air is necessary for life to continue. In Atwood's poem the speaker wants to be a life long partner and nurture and protect their loved one, as opposed to Brooke's poem that shows how easily love fades and all that is left are the daily mundane lives they lead and children grown to continue their legacy. Atwood's shows pure love and strength the real obligations of a marriage, till death.

The theme of Atwood's Variation of Sleep is the unconditional love that we are supposed to feel when we are in a relationship. There will always be obstacles but if you have someone that will be there to protect, love, care for you and nurture you no matter what stands in your way, love will be the breath of life that will carry you through all the trials and tribulations.

The ocean by the night


  1. I finally had a second to read your entry, and I have to say--makes sense to me! Now you need to use it to create a paper with some references.

    1. Oh, also: I have some comments on your draft for ideas. I will give them to you on Monday.