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Poem Variation on the Word Sleep by Margret Atwood

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This is a poem about going into a dream. The speaker wants to sleep with a loved one and go into their dream and protect them from the subconscious fears. The speaker also wants to bring the loved one back from the dream safely and shelter that person. The speaker wants to be very important in the other person’s life.

The poem’s idea is clear in but the poem has a lot of words that help readers understand her message. Some of the meanings are literal, and some are topological. The different use of words in this poem help the reader to experience what the speaker is feeling. Literal meanings are words that don’t have hidden meanings. Words like smooth meaning without edges, not rough, lets the reader know that it was not difficult to enter the dream. The word walk means to travel telling the reader that the speaker wants to go with the loved one through the dream. As the speaker goes further into the dream the word descend is used to let the reader know. Topological meanings are figures of speech, similes, metaphors, imaginary, personification, or symbolism. The reference to the silver branch, and the small white flower do not mean that the speaker really wants to give the items to the loved one. These items are symbolic of honor, power, good-luck, good, peace and hope. The speaker wants to make the journey through the dream as easy and peaceful as possible for the loved one.

Also, the speaker could not become a boat or air, these are personifications. The speaker would like to be a boat that would take the loved one to safety. The speaker would also like to become air to give the loved one life. The speaker also references the loved one to a flame, she means that is his existence. The speaker in this poem is an inside speaker. She describes what she wants to do with the loved one, how she would like to travel with him or her in the dream. She tells of what she would like to give the loved one. She also tells of how she wants to fit into the loved one’s life “unnoticed and necessary”(30.1027) The tone of the poem is longing. The speaker is repetitive with the words “I would like” obviously she cannot go into the dream with the loved one, but she may someday sleep with them. She would like to be as important to this person as air is, it does not say if the other person feels the same. Each part of the poem has significant meaning. Lines 5-7 explain that the speaker wants to travel with her loved one into their sleep.

These lines describe the journey into sleep. The speaker describes the entrance into the dream as easy to enter and smooth as if she were actually entering. In lines 8-9 the speaker goes into the fantasy part of the dream. She describes a wavering forest and blue green leaves. The descriptions are fantasy because forests aren’t wavering and leaves are not blue-green. The forest also has significant meaning because in dreams you confront your subconscious feelings the forest symbolizes the many feelings and thoughts. Lines 10-11 go deeper into the dream using the word cave to mean subconscious and the word descend to mean go deeper. These lines deal with the subconscious fears that come up during deep sleep. The speaker understands that the loved one has to work through the fears to emerge through the dream. When the speaker refers to the “small white flower” and the “silver branch” in lines 13-14 she is trying to help the loved one cope with the fear in the dream and help be a guide.

They show that she would like to work the problems for the loved one but can’t so she gives what she can to make it easier for the loved one to get past the fear. Lines 18-19 are the two slowly coming out of the dream. The speaker tells the loved one that she would like to follow him or her up the long stairway. The stairway refers to a path out of the dream. Because she is behind the loved one implies that she is someone to fall back on for support if the loved one stumbles or falls. The speaker continues to show desire for support in lines 20-22. She states that she would like to be the boat that rows the loved one back, meaning that she wants to carry the loved one over the rough waters back to the reality of them together. She also shows that she would like to be in control rowing back carefully. Lines 22-23 speak of a flame meaning the loved one’s life, being held in her cupped hands.

This is again refers to her shielding the loved one from any harm. Flames are easily put out and because the hands are cupped is the protection of the flame. The final lines of the poem tie together all the protection and control she would like to have over the loved one. She wants the loved one to love her but she doesn’t want to suffocate him or her with her love. The speaker wants to as important to the loved one as air is to life, but at the same time as unnoticed as breathing.

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