Central Theme: Written in November 1916. About sleep, first defined as resting; metaphorically a powerfully alluring gift of nature, like that of a deep, dark 'forest'. Then death; inexorable but perhaps pleasant after the challenging experiences of life.
Structure: Five, six-line stanzas, structured so that it begins with a vital part of the journey, in the transition to the brink of death. Full stops end each stanza, appearing dramatic, as if a suspended pause is leading to the final pause constituting death at the end of the poem.
Rhyming Scheme: Patterened aabccb; the rhyme sets up an expectation of inevitability, conveying the inexorability of death.
- 'Borders of sleep': suggests the beginning of a journey, as though Thomas considers sleep as an actually place, with the unusual modification 'borders' connoting the frontier of a country.
- Edna Longley writes "As in the first stanza, Thomas mimetically plays syntax against line, 'winding' against 'straight'. The enjabement of this helps to evoke emotions in the reader as to feel as disorientated and disjointed as Thomas does as he falls asleep. Moreover, the antithesis of 'winding' and 'straight' suggests the many routes to death and sleep.
- In the poem, the 'forest' connotes a place of enchantment, naturally alluring - a place that cannot be resisted. Thus, it is a metaphor for sleep. This is reinforced by the use of the modal verb in 'all must lose their way' suggesting lack of choice, as if being cast under a spell. This connects the inability to choose death, and for Thomas, not being able to choose going into the Army to fight in France - essentially passively comitting suicide.
- 'since the dawn's first crack' suggests everyday is the process of a journey, evoking the tediousness of life for Thomas, and how waking up engulfs him with sadness due to the inexorability of death as each day proceeds.
- 'Decieved' further reiterates the idea of having a spell cast upon, as if Thomas feels emotionally blackmailed into fighting in France, despite the sordid reality of inevitable death.
- 'Travellers' and 'blurs': aptly merges a pattern of monosyllabic rhyming on crisp 'k' sounds, such as 'sink', a way of reflecting the state of being conscious and awake followed by the desire to sleep, it effectively 'blurs'.
- Moreover, the way 'they sink' anaphorically references to the 'unfathomable deep' in stanza one, which alludes to the ocean, Thomas is once again using natural features of the world to conjure his desire to remain in a peaceful slumber, such as by allowing himself to 'sink' to the bottom of the ocean. - Sleep is personal e.g. the dreams of the induvidual are 'unfathomable'. Alternatively, it serves as a conscious reminder of how people in the War, sink into the ground after their deaths in No Mans Land.
Stanza's Three and Four
- Stanza Three: Use of abstract nouns in abundance, such as 'despair' and 'trouble' all coalesce to form the epitome of life, suggesting it is somewhat a burden. This is reinforced by the comparative adjective 'sweeter', denoting sleep is desirable to living, something that Thomas confides in and ironically lives for as a means of escape.
- The repetition of verb 'ends', conjures the stanza to be fraught with the inclination that Thomas knew he would be leaving for France fairly soon as he has now recieved his commission for 2nd lieutenant, suggesting his desire of a peaceful slumber will soon terminate for 'tasks most noble' - fighting for his country.
- Stanza Four: 'To go into the unknown I must enter and leave alone': this refers to France being an unknown country to Thomas, the fact he will leave his life behind for it makes it appear as a tangible place. Thus, deals with the concept of human alienation, reinforced by the adverb 'alone', evoking the solitude that will accompany his inevitable death in France, the way a man falls asleep essentially - alone.
- The final stanza refers to the towering 'cloudy foliage', suggests death is fraught with enigma; as if leaving your life behind in Thomas' case, essentially, nature and instinct is enveloping once more - returning to the purest of life. Reinforced by: 'I may lose my way/And myself', indicating a surrendering to death. This is juxtaposed with imagery such as 'shelf above shelf' which evokes a sense of structure in contrast with mysteriousness, perhaps denoting although there is a structure to life, all life concludes with death, each person's induvidual experience of it is different and mysterious to everyone else, thus, the sibillance here suggests Thomas' bitterness towards this concept.
- Edna Longley continues to state 'The last lines constitute a diminuendo of six, five and four syllables.' The foreshortened abrupt final line at the end of each stanza, reinforces the relentlessness of death and that there is no turning back at the end of the poem.