The Sleepers

May 10, 2014

Who dream there is a city full of sentient caterpillars;
Who dream the sleepers, who begin to believe this dream;
Something the brain has squeezed together, say,
Something that allows the groggy and the gasping sleepers
To sleep soundly while the caterpillars climb
All over them. Of course rumors abide. Some say
That the caterpillars must be a dream,
A sort of collective nightmare. Others disagree.
The caterpillars must be the reality, they say.
This is not Walt Whitman with his super empathetic
‘pausing and gazing and bending and stopping.’
This is a nest for the nameless. We want our rights,
They say to the sleepers, not your stupid dreams.
Butterflies, this is our dawn. Sleepers, you must wake!

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2 Responses to “The Sleepers”

  1. extrasimile Says:

    A political poem? I hadn’t quite thought of it that way—unless all poetry is political—but then the description is meaningless for any particular poem, and I don’t think it is. Political in the way that, say, ‘Marat / Sade’ is political—and I’m thinking of the Peter Brook film here. [available on youtube—as is his King Lear]. Sing ‘we want our rights, any we don’t care how…’ Whisper, ‘we want a revolution NOW’. Perhaps all art aspires to a condition of revolution [to really butcher Walter Pater]. I recommend taking a good look at M/ S one of these days. To my mind it holds up quite well, and sneakily underlies this poem—unlike the Whitman poem, which may have nothing to do with it—though ‘The Sleepers’ is one of my favorite poems. Anyway that’s where the ‘we want our rights’ comes from—and perhaps it’s where the distrust of ‘revolutions’ comes from—though I rather think it a case of similar sensibilities.
    Someone trying to imagine the world with possibilities rather than nagging negation? Yes, yes and yes. With emphasis on ‘trying’.
    I have moved to Manhattan. Midtown. An area known as Tudor City. It was my wife’s idea and I can’t begin to assess its possible effect on my life. Though the word ‘trying’ works here too.
    Thanks Thomas.
    Jim.

  2. Thomas Davis Says:

    Good Lord, is this ever a great poem, Jim. Who does dream of a world of sentient caterpillars? Someone having a nightmare perhaps? Or someone trying to imagine a different world with possibilities rather than nagging negation?
    Who dreams of the sleepers? The sleepers who believe the dream of sentient caterpillars climbing all over them?
    Of course rumors abide. Some say
    That the caterpillars must be a dream,
    A sort of collective nightmare. Others disagree.
    ***
    This is not Walt Whitman with his super empathetic
    ‘pausing and gazing and bending and stopping.’
    This is a nest for the nameless.
    The nameless masses? The caterpillars are really people crawling over the earth? They could not be Walt Whitman shouting I am at the top of his literary lungs. The man who is endlessly rocking in the cradle of an ocean of emotions, sights, sounds, smells, universes.
    This is a nest for the nameless. We want our rights,
    They say to the sleepers, not your stupid dreams.
    The sleepers are those who wish to live their dreams for themselves, but the nameless caterpillars want their rights? How dare they?
    Then the exhortation:
    Butterflies, this is our dawn. Sleepers, you must wake!
    The nameless become aware that they have a dawn. The Sleepers must awake to a world of butterflies that have nothing to do with their dreams of self.
    A political poem, Jim? Really? But deeper too, a warning to all those who dream, that
    The caterpillars must be the reality
    and not a collective nightmare.
    I hope you are okay. Moves are stressful. Where are you living now?


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