"Variations on the Word Sleep" By Margaret Atwood

Essay by rjamesCollege, UndergraduateA+, December 2002

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Variations on the Word Sleep

By Margaret Atwood

In Variations on the Word Sleep the narrator of the poem immediately addresses his/her conscience need to connect with the other person, and they also recognize the hopelessness of this goal: "I would like to watch you sleeping, which may not happen"(1-2). The opening to the poem, as we see here, could be considered typical of Atwood's writing in the sense that one person longs to bond with another, and recognizes the difficulty. It is this type of vulnerability that we have come to expect in Margaret Atwood's writings, because, as with many feminist writings, we are aware of the power struggle between men and women, and even between women. But this poem refrains from identifying sexes; it only discusses a deeply internal need of one person for another, who is on a journey through the dark maze of their consciousness.

The first stanza evolves from a simple plea from the genderless speaker to watch their lover sleep, to a deeper, spiritual need. Atwood chooses to remain ambiguous in this respect, which helps a wider audience identify with the work. The poem also has merit because within seven short, simplistic lines we glide from a gentle longing to a love complex and intense, with two minds merging together in a dream: "I would like to watch you, sleeping. I would like to sleep with you, to enter your sleep as its smooth dark wave slides over my head.(3-7)" The action of the poem continues to evolve as Atwood carries the reader through what appears to be a lover's dream or fantasy. The narrator at first wishes only to watch their lover sleep, then he/she desires to enter the same sleep, then envision him/her descending through the layers of consciousness. As the...