Analysis of the Variations of the Word Sleep

What feels like a letter to a lover, Margaret Atwood uses her poem “Variation on the word Sleep” to depict the feelings of love, lust and desire. Atwood uses the persona of someone who feels the need to protect as the narrator of her piece. He tone is intimate and personal and her use of imagery captures the audience as Atwood metaphorically describes the speaker’s yearning. Through the use of imagery and an intimate tone, Atwood shows multiple variations of the word sleep by incorporating three main themes in the poem: love, lust and desire.

The first line in the poem quickly introduces the theme of love. The poem begins with “I would like to watch you sleeping” (678. 1). We see the narrator as being straightforward, expressing their love for their lover. Sleeping is a person’s most vulnerable state and it seems like the narrator is almost asking for permission to not only watch them sleep but to love them. We see this in the next line, “which may not happen” (678. 2). The speaker is asking permission as well as recognizing the hopelessness of this goal.

Atwood uses an anaphora throughout the poem, with the repetition of the phrase “I would like” after each sentence. This suggests that the speaker is self-refrained and has a clear voice, however it also suggests yearning for something that might not happen. The speaker is shown to be nervous in the start of the poem. This is shown when she repeats the phrase “I would like to watch you sleeping”. After the second line, “which may not happen. ” It seems as if the period is a pause for the speaker to clear their throat and to just be honest with their lover.

The speaker also shows desire to protect their lover in their dreams as well as that longing to be loved back. The speaker says “I would like to be the air/ that inhabits you for a moment/ only” (678. 27-28). These lines illustrate all the desire the speaker has to be with their lover. Atwood builds up to these last few lines as she ends with “I would like to be that unnoticed/ & that necessary”. It is evident that all this yearning is for something as simple as just being with the person the speaker loves.

Atwood’s use of imagery and her soft personal tone help build the three main themes in the poem, love, lust and desire which conclude to the countless variations of the word sleep. In the poem “Variations of the word sleep,” Margaret Atwood truly shows that there is more to sleep then just sleeping. Atwood shows that wanting to sleep with someone can mean physically sleeping beside a person or sleeping with him or her in a spiritual sense. Evidently, Atwood uses her poem to portray different definitions of the word sleep by focusing on love, lust and desire

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