POETRY: The Sleep by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Sleep by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2)

Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward unto souls afar,
Along the Psalmist’s music deep,
Now tell me if that any is,
For gift or grace, surpassing this:
“He giveth his beloved—sleep?”

What would we give to our beloved?
The hero’s heart to be unmoved,
The poet’s star-tuned harp to sweep,
The patriot’s voice to teach and rouse,
The monarch’s crown to light the brows?
He giveth his beloved—sleep.

What do we give to our beloved?
A little faith all undisproved,
A little dust to overweep,
And bitter memories to make
The whole Earth blasted for our sake:
He giveth his beloved—sleep.

“Sleep soft, beloved!” we sometimes say,
Who have no tune to charm away
Sad dreams that through the eyelids creep:
But never doleful dream again
Shall break the happy slumber when
He giveth his beloved—sleep.

O Earth, so full of dreary noises!
O men, with waiting in your voices!
O delved gold, the wailers heap!
O strife, O curse, that o’er it fall!
God strikes a silence through you all,
And giveth his beloved—sleep.

His dews drop mutely on the hill,
His cloud above it saileth still,
Though on its slope men sow and reap:
More softly than the dew is shed,
Or cloud is floated overhead,
He giveth his beloved—sleep.

Aye, men may wonder while they scan
A living, thinking, feeling man
Confirmed in such a rest to keep;
But angels say,—and through the word
I think their happy smile is heard
“He giveth his beloved—sleep.”

For me, my heart that erst did go
Most like a tired child at a show,
That sees through tears the mummers leap,
Would now its wearies vision close,
Would childlike on his love repose
Who giveth his beloved—sleep.

And friends, dear friends, when it shall be
That this low breath is gone from me,
And round my bier ye come to weep,
Let One, most loving of you all,
Say, “Not a tear must o’er her fall!
He giveth his beloved—sleep.”

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