Like the speaker in Keats’s Sonnet to Sleep, we all have bouts with our conscience. Unfortunately for the speaker, his conscience is causing him to suffer from a terrible case of insomnia. He finds that not only does his conscience never sleep, but if he cannot subdue his conscience he will not sleep either. So, as our speaker struggles with guilt, he finds himself unable to sleep and is so desperate for rest that he sees death as a viable alternative.
Exhausted, our speaker in the sonnet’s octet, prays for sleep to bless him with its divine forgetfulness. He personifies sleep as a divine being of sorts, and feels that this being is overlooking him do to the fact that he has sinned too greatly to be blessed with the forgetfulness that sleep offers. Our first example of this personification comes in the first line, when he calls sleep the “soft embalmer of the still midnight”.
When one thinks of an embalmer, one thinks of someone that fills a dead body with a preserving fluid that prevents that decay of said body. So in a sense, the speaker feels that if sleep would bless him with its “forgetfulness divine” (5), his soul would be purified with his forgetfulness. This is also the first time that the speaker shows a correlation between sleep with death. It is obvious that he thinks that if he could only get to sleep he would be able to forget all about the situation that is plaguing his conscience so much.
Believing that sleep will not visit him this night, our speaker contemplates taking opium to allow him to forget about the day that just passed, telling this divine being that is sleep that if it will not bring him the forgetfulness he seeks then he will have to take matters into his own hands. The resolution in the sestet is were we are actually introduced to the cause of the insomnia, and the speaker’s pleading for redemption from his sins that are causing his insomnia.
In the first three lines of the sestet the speaker is asking to be rescued from his conscience and the deeds of the day just passed that he keeps mulling over. Apparently, he feels that if he cannot be blessed by the forgetfulness of sleep, he will continue to relive in his mind whatever it is that he has done wrong. While he does not come out and explicitly say what his sin is, we do know that is eating away at the core of his being. This is implied by the metaphor of the mole burrowing into the very depths of his soul.