Two little girls and a boy I know, who like bedtime stories and cuddly night-night prayers, let me know evening rituals need not include too much kissy-face.

My urge to send them off into the unchaperoned world of dreams buried in kisses, as I would bundle them in woolens in winter, is part of my desire to protect.

Emily Dickinson’s “Now I lay thee down to Sleep —” turns a nursery rhyme prayer on its head, with a similar motivation.

Now I lay thee down to Sleep –
I pray the Lord thy Dust to keep –
And if thou live before thou wake –
I pray the Lord thy Soul to make –

The familiar, “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my Soul to keep/If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my Soul to take” provides the form for the poem. A version that has scared the stew out of many children obliged to pray, meander off to sleep, and half invite death. Possible death before morning?! There is small comfort in prevailing upon “the Lord” to get busy and take the child’s soul if such a catastrophe were to occur. 

Dickinson’s poem does not ignore the concept of death altogether. “I pray the Lord thy Dust to keep — ”, regards life’s earth-bound origins as part of a process before, during, and after earth-time. I ask the Lord to keep you intact. Great idea.

Less clear, but astoundingly concise, “And if thou live before thou wake —”, indicates that my child and I are never to young or too old to begin living. If “live” is to smile my own smile, not theirs; find my own words, not theirs. Live my own life, not someone else’s. No one is too young to learn to be true to herself.  She need not wait for “the Lord my Soul to take” to wake to the miracle of miracles — Life.

The loveliest concept of all, “I pray the Lord thy Soul to make —” suggests that neither violence, poverty, neglect or loss may be allowed to make a soul into a contorted reflection of misfortune. The poem suggests a knowledge gained from experience, perhaps a regenerative one, a love for life that we want to give our loved ones. But, that cannot be imposed, or forced, if they do not want either a kiss or an authentic life.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way