Friday, 24 July 2009


The English poet, Robert Graves, was born on 24th July 1895. On 24th July 1916, on his 21st birthday, he read his obituary in The Times, having supposedly been killed in action.

Nevertheless, he survived the war and went on to write his famous memoir Good-bye To All That, as well as historical novels, scholarly works and many fine poetry collections. Robert Graves died on 7th December 1985.

The poem I have chosen is amongst his happiest, in fact, he wrote of it in a letter, dated 2nd May 1963:

"As a matter of record, I have never been so happy in my life as now: all the unhappiness of three years has peeled away. I wrote a poem two days ago, beginning, 'Not to sleep all the night gone, for pure joy....' which is one of the few poems of utter happiness ever written....this is mine and may it excuse all the dark ones."

Not To Sleep

Not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy,
Counting no sheep and careless of chimes
Welcoming the dawn confabulation
of birds, her children, who discuss idly
Fanciful details of the promised coming -
Will she be wearing red, or russet, or blue,
Or pure white? - whatever she wears, glorious:
Not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy,
This is given to few, but at last to me,
So that when I laugh and stretch and leap from the bed
I shall glide downstairs, my feet brushing the carpet
In courtesy to civilized progression,
Though, did I wish, I could soar through the open window
And perch on a branch above, acceptable ally
Of the birds still alert, grumbling gently together.


  1. "dawn confabulation of birds, her children"

  2. I have felt that way, but not often.

  3. Wonderful poem. I have read a lot of Graves, both the poetry and the prose. Sometimes I am not sure that I like him as a man but then something comes along like this poem which overwhelms everything. Had not read this one for a long time so thank you for reminding me!

  4. Graves is one of my favorite poets. Thank you for reminding us of this lovely poem. Being a happy insomniac -I love the hours during the night when I am awake and it seems the whole world is asleep - the line "not to sleep all the night long, for pure joy.." talks to me.

  5. Friko, such a joyous poem! If one ever suffers a light depression, this is how it would feel to come out of it, enjoying "most this amazing day" (e.e. cummings). xxox

  6. A happy poem after the sad post of yesterday, I think that it is good, why be sad for things one cannot change. But I thought: when was the last time I was so happy I did not want to sleep? I’ll have to ponder on that – there must have been many times. This is good – to think about happiness.

  7. What a wonderful and happy poem. Thank you!! Hugs, Silke

  8. The poem is poignant after yesterdays post, which I missed for some reason. I lost my mother to alzheimers also. It is so sad. My mom knew when it was happening and that was so sad. She went 4 years not knowing me before she died. Blessing to you in the loss of your friend. Blessings we can not ever see or understand sometimes.

  9. English Rider - yes, he must have been happy.

    Tabor - me too, just once or twice, maybe.

    elizabethm - he has rather gone out of fashion, hasn't he. Perhaps his prose is a bit dated.

    Celeste Maia - a happy insomniac - congratulations. I am a less happy one; but reading poetry during sleepless nights helps.

    Margaret - an ee cummings fan? good for you.

    Vagabonde - ringing the changes here - misery is not a good companion although an occasional reminder is perhaps not bad.

    Silke - Glad you like it, Gruss und Kuss

    Queenmothermamaw - I am so sorry about your Mum; You are right, we never know what trials we may be sent and what they may mean for us.

  10. Pure joy - clear as a it can be.
    I think that many a woman my age would give anything to approach sleep, or lack of sleep with joyous anticipation. Sometimes the expectation of insomnia is worse than the actual lack of sleep.
    I loved the idea of gliding down the stairs, fresh and rested, 'feet brushing the carpet' - lovely!

  11. Pondside - Like I said before I am not exactly jumping for joy, pure or otherwise, when anticipating or experiencing a sleepless night.


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