One Clover & A Bee: Poems to Sleep On

A Poem to (Possibly) Sleep On

Sleep figures large in the life of a parent. For some of us it’s a tantalizing mirage, always just out of reach—it was for me, anyway. My daughter had colic for her first six months in the world, and cried for hours on end while my partner and I walked and rocked and massaged and drove her up and down the highway. It didn’t really help, but it gave us something to do while we were in despair. It’s terrible to feel as though you can’t comfort your child.

My son didn’t seem to need sleep at all for the first three years of his life.  A few hours a night was just fine with him. We saw a lot of sunrises during that time. I think. I don’t really remember.

So my partner and I spent many hours trying to soothe our children to sleep, and it happens that I like to sing but my partner is a little shy about his voice (though I think it’s lovely). Sometimes folks like him (and you?) need another way to connect with their babies and kids that feels intimate and musical. Yes, you guessed it: the music of poetry is the answer!

Next bedtime, find yourself a book light, clip it on to a book of poems, flip through until you find something that looks interesting, and start reading aloud. The more you read poems aloud, the more they’ll feel part of your natural language and the better they will sound to you, and to your kids.

If you already have poems/poets you love, by all means start with those. But if not, I have a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke to start you off (don’t forget last week’s poem by Christina Rossetti—now you have two!) and in my next column, I’ll have lots more collections/poets to suggest.

I can’t guarantee sleep, but at the very least you’ll discover poems you love, your children will begin to ingest the rhythms of poetry, and before long you’ll have poems you can say by heart—the seeds of your family’s poetry play list.

In the mean time, if you like this one, you may want to get your hands on one of Rilke’s books—these are poems born for reading aloud—there’s much to enjoy, even—or especially— in the dark of night.

BTW, as always, feel free to substitute she for he and vice-versa in your reading—make it work for you!


Tuck a child in his bed,
close this letter of life
that will arrive tonight.
We will read it together,
its contents will be spoken
out loud in the dark.

What it contains will end
by creating changes;
we will stop, we will go,
the whole room will capsize
in this sleeping one.

[By Rainer Maria Rilke translated by A. Poulin, Jr. from The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke published by Graywolf Press (1968)]

Until next time: sweet dreams.


Amy Dryansky

Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Amanda Tipton]

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