TCS: Insomnia in a Plague Year

Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

– William Shakespeare – Macbeth, Act II, scene 2


Insomnia has been my erratic companion for many decades, but for the past several months, he has become a looming gargoyle on the swing-arm lamp above the bed. Hollow-eyed, he sighs and fidgets, mewls and snuffles. The embodiment of Thomas Hood’s “No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease . . .”  

I count the long days until November instead of sheep, and I long for the denouement of the farce.


“Oh no, I know what it is. I’m awake. That’s it. I’ve waked up in the middle of the night. Well, isn’t that nice. Isn’t that simply ideal. Twenty minutes past four, sharp, and here’s Baby wide-eyed as a marigold. Look at this, will you? At the time when all decent people are just going to bed, I must wake up. There’s no way things can ever come out even, under this system. This is as rank as injustice is ever likely to get. This is what brings about hatred and bloodshed, that’s what this does.”

 – from “The Little Hours,” by Dorothy Parker

“The Little Hours” from Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker, © 1995 by The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – Penguin Books

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) may be the most quoted – and misquoted – woman in America. Her formal education ended at 14, but she became a celebrated wit. Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for  pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had never met.


The silver moon is set
The Pleiades are gone
Midnight, and time slips by
Yet still do I lie alone

 – fragment from Sappho

Sappho (630?BC-570?BC) – Archaic Greek poet from Lesbos. She was the only woman in the canon of Nine Melic Poets most esteemed by scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. Her work predates copyright laws.



by Kate Hall

If I were to sleep, it would be on an iron bed,
bolted to the floor in a bomb-proof concrete room
with twelve locks on the door.
I wouldn’t ask for a mattress
or decorate. I wouldn’t ask for beautiful.
I’d let the philosophers in,
but not into my bed.
They’d arrive cradling their brass instruments.
I might let them play
but only very softly and only if
they didn’t fight or sing.

If I were to sleep, there wouldn’t be any windows.
There would be a skylight,
but in the middle of the floor.
I’d press my face against the glass
and stare down at other floors upon floors upon floors…
I’d do a sleep dance right on top of the skylight.
It would be a new game.
It would involve amazing feats of sleep contortion.
It would involve letters.

If I were to sleep, I would be spread-eagled across the bed,
and even with the iron struts and screws cutting into my back,
I would protect the metal frame.
I would protect the springs.

 “Insomnia” from The Certainty Dream, © 2009 by Kate Hall –
Coach House Books

Kate Hall (1977 – ) Canadian poet, won the Irving Layton Award and the David McKeen Award for her poetry, and her first book, The Certainty Dream, was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. She traveled on the Wave Books Poetry Bus tour, along with American poet Matthew Rohrer, in 2006. Hall lives in Montreal and teaches at McGill University.



by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Thin are the night-skirts left behind
By daybreak hours that onward creep,
And thin, alas! the shred of sleep
That wavers with the spirit’s wind:
But in half-dreams that shift and roll
And still remember and forget,
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
A little nearer yet.

Our lives, most dear, are never near,
Our thoughts are never far apart,
Though all that draws us heart to heart
Seems fainter now and now more clear.
To-night Love claims his full control,
And with desire and with regret
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
A little nearer yet.

Is there a home where heavy earth
Melts to bright air that breathes no pain,
Where water leaves no thirst again
And springing fire is Love’s new birth?
If faith long bound to one true goal
May there at length its hope beget,
My soul that hour shall draw your soul
For ever nearer yet.

“Insomnia” from Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Collected Poetry and Prose, Yale University Press – 2003 edition

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) English poet, translator, painter, and illustrator. Founder with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and was a major influence on the Arts and Crafts movement, the European Symbolists and foreshadowed the Aesthetic movement. Noted for Poems; Ballads and Sonnets; and Sonnets and Lyrical Poems.



by Elizabeth Bishop

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
far and away beyond sleep, or
perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper.

By the Universe deserted,
she’d tell it to go to hell,
and she’d find a body of water,
or a mirror, on which to dwell.
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well

into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.

“Insomnia” from Poems, © 2011 by the Alice H. Methfessel Trust – Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Elizabeth Bishop (1811-1979), American poet and short story writer born in Worchester, Massachusetts. She was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (1949-1950), the 1856 winner of the Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry, won the 1970 National Book Award , and the 1976 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Her poetry collections include: North & South; A Cold Spring; Geography III; and Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box.



look upon autumn sky
stars tell stories

Hana is a Japanese-born author and poet who writes in both Japanese and English. Her online English-language collection of poetry and fiction is called Etude of Creativity


Lines Written at Night During Insomnia

by Alexander Pushkin

I can’t sleep, no light burns;

All round, darkness, irksome sleep.
Only the monotonous
Ticking of the clock,
The old wives chatter of fate,
Trembling of the sleeping night,
Mouse-like scurrying of life…
Why do you disturb me?
What do you mean tedious whispers?
Is it the day I have wasted
Reproaching me or murmuring?
What do you want from me?
Are you calling me or prophesying?
I want to understand you,
I seek a meaning in you…

“Lines Written at Night During Insomnia” from  The Bronze Horseman: Selected Poems of Alexander Pushkin, translated by D. M. Thomas – Penguin Classic, 1983 edition

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) born in Moscow, Russian Romantic era poet, playwright, novelist, and journalist. Considered by many as the greatest Russian poet, and the founder of modern Russian literature. He was fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, a French officer serving in the Russian cavalry, who had tried to seduce Pushkin’s wife.



by Linda Pastan

I remember when my body
was a friend.

when sleep like a good dog
came when summoned.

The door to the future
had not started to shut,

and lying on my back
between cold sheets

did not feel
like a rehearsal.

Now what light is left
comes up—a stain in the east,

and sleep, reluctant
as a busy doctor,

gives me a little
of its time.

“Insomnia” from Insomnia, © 2015 by Linda Pastan – W.W. Norton & Company

Linda Pastan (1932 – ) was born in New York City, but now lives in Maryland; she was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995. Among her many poetry collections are:
Carnival Evening: New and Selected Poems 1968-1998; Queen of a Rainy Country; Traveling Light; and A Dog Runs Through It.


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Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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