Insomniac Poets

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“And yet poets occupy the most special relationship to sleep. Partly this is because poetry is itself a form of sleep: it beckons readers — aloud into altered breathing patterns, and its rhythms, as W.B. Yeats once observed, serve ‘to keep us in that state of perhaps real trance in which the mind liberated from the pressure of the will is unfolded in symbols.’ In other words, poetry’s repeated beats can exert a narcoleptic force that seduces the mind into a state of heightened receptivity, an openness to the dreamlike succession of images the poem initiates.

But it’s also because poets have historically developed so many sleep-related idiosyncrasies, so many WTF-caliber bedtime tics, that one begins to wonder whether nighttime anxieties are part and parcel with the trade. Take Lord Byron, who went to bed at dawn and rose at 2 p.m. Prior to sleep, Byron punctually swallowed a single egg yolk whole while standing, then retired to his chambers, where he slept with two loaded pistols at his bedside and a dagger under his pillow.

More good anecdotes follow in Andrew Kay’s “Staring into the Soundless Dark: On the Trouble Lurking in Poets’ Bedrooms” The Millions – 1/5/17

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