• Brian Elias
  • But When I Sleep (1987)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)

Written for Oxford University Press publication 'New Music' 88

  • Viola
  • 4 min

Programme Note

But When I Sleep is a response to Shakespeare’ s Sonnet 43:

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected.
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee….

As the sonnet is full of antitheses [opposites], I have used pairs of intervals to mimic this device. The viola is muted throughout this very short piece.

It was written in 1987 for a musical journal, New Music 88.



When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see, 
For all the day they view things unrespected; 
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee, 
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed; 
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright, 
How would thy shadow's form form happy show 
To the clear day with thy much clearer light, 
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so? 
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made 
By looking on thee in the living day, 
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me. 


XLIII. This Sonnet possibly begins a new group, but if the last four Sonnets were written while the poet was away from his friend, the absence continues. The poet's love for his friend transforms night into day and day into night. Darkness becomes bright when his friend's figure is seen in dreams, a figure which would add lustre to the clear daylight. How much, therefore, does he long to see his friend again. The days of absence are dark as night. 
1. Wink. Close the eyes in sleep. Cf. Tempest, Act ii. sc. i, lines 284, 285
"You, doing thus, 
To the perpetual wink for aye might put  
This ancient morsel!" 
2. Unrespected. Without paying attention to them. 
3. Darkly bright. Bright, though not seeing, the lids being closed.  Bright in dark directed . Become bright through the vision of the loved image, when the eyes, though closed, are directed in the darkness. No other sense seems practicable. Cf. xxvii., where the sleepless eyes, open by night, are spoken of.