Study Guide

Lullaby Quotes

  • Love

    Lay your sleeping head, my love,
    Human on my faithless arm; (1-2)

    This is a really intimate way to begin a poem. It's almost as if we're overhearing the speaker whispering to his lover in bed.

    Mortal, guilty but to me
    The entirely beautiful. (9-10)

    The speaker knows that his beloved isn't perfect. Instead of being a problem, his mortality and guiltiness is what makes him worth loving. It's what makes him beautiful to the speaker.

    Soul and body have no bounds: (11)

    It seems here like the lovers are all tangled up in each other, both physically and emotionally.

    In their ordinary swoon,
    Grave the vision Venus sends
    Of supernatural sympathy,
    Universal love and hope; (12-17)

    The speaker imagines a message of love sent to the lovers from Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Yet this message is "grave"; it's serious and maybe even a little morbid. Love in this poem is not sparkling all the time because there's always the threat of death. Also, it's noteworthy that the speaker uses the word "ordinary" to describe the embrace of the lovers. Their love is nothing special; it's the love that every human experiences.

    […] but from this night
    Not a whisper, not a thought,
    Not a kiss or look be lost. (28-30)

    The speaker declares that he'll remember everything that has happened on this night. He won't forget a single second of this love-filled experience.

    Let the winds of dawn that blow
    Softly round your dreaming head
    Such a day of sweetness show
    Eye and knocking heart may bless.
    Find the mortal world enough; (32-36)

    The speaker whispers a prayer-like wish for his sleeping beloved. He wants the world to treat him well, and he wants his lover to find what he needs on earth, not in the heavens.

    Noons of dryness see you fed
    By the involuntary powers,
    Nights of insult let you pass
    Watched by every human love. (37-40)

    The speaker declares that he'll watch over his lover completely. He'll make sure that he's fed in times of famine, and protected from all harm. Instead of looking to God for help, the speaker essentially says, his beloved should look to him.

  • Death

    Time and fevers burn away
    Individual beauty from
    Thoughtful children, and the grave
    Proves the child ephemeral: (3-6)

    This is the beginning of the speaker's focus on death. He notes that nothing lasts forever: children grow up and lose their beauty, and everyone dies eventually.

    But in my arms til break of day
    Let the living creature lie,
    Mortal, guilty but to me
    The entirely beautiful. (7-10)

    By referring to his sleeping beloved as a "living creature," we're reminded of the fact that, one day, he will not be living. The speaker then goes on to call him "mortal;" just another reminder that we will all die some day.

    Certainty, fidelity
    On the stroke of midnight pass
    Like vibrations of a bell, (21-23)

    Here the speaker includes symbols of time passing – a clock and a bell – which have the effect of reminding us that time is always passing.

    Beauty, midnight, vision dies; (31)

    Nothing lasts forever in this poem or in the world. It's not just human beings who die. Beauty doesn't last forever, nor do our visions. Even midnight "dies" every night.

    Find the mortal world enough (36)

    The speaker asks his sleeping beloved to be satisfied with their earthly life. He says that their world and their love are enough for both of them; they don't need a god or supernatural powers.

  • Religion

    Lay your sleeping head, my love,
    Human on my faithless arm; (1-2)

    The speaker starts off the poem by telling us that he's faithless. Does this mean that he has no faith in God? In humanity? In anything? We have to keep reading to find out.

    To lovers as they lie upon
    Her tolerant enchanted slope
    In their ordinary swoon,
    Grave the vision Venus sends
    Of supernatural sympathy,
    Universal love and hope; (12-17)

    It seems like the speaker has no faith in a Christian god, but here he invoke Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Does he believe in Roman gods? Is the speaker a polytheist? Probably not. Venus here seems more like a symbol of love than an actual deity in which the speaker believes.

    Let the winds of dawn that blow
    Softly round your dreaming head
    Such a day of sweetness show
    Eye and knocking heart may bless.
    Find the mortal world enough; (32-36)

    This part of the poem sounds kind of like a prayer. The speaker uses the word "bless," and the whole phrase begins with the word "let," which makes it sounds like the speaker is addressing a higher power with prayers for his beloved. But this is all undercut by line 36. The speaker asks his lover to "find the mortal world enough" – to find satisfaction in earthly life. No god is necessary, the speaker says. All you need is love.

    Noons of dryness see you fed
    By the involuntary powers,
    Nights of insult let you pass
    Watched by every human love. (37-40)

    The speaker promises that he will watch over his lover. They don't need God. They just need each other.

  • Time

    Time and fevers burn away
    Individual beauty from
    Thoughtful children, and the grave
    Proves the child ephemeral: (3-6)

    The speaker here notes how the passing of time affects us all. Time erases the beauty of our childhood, and all children will grow up into adults who will die one day. We are all "ephemeral."

    But in my arms til break of day
    Let the living creature lie, (7-8)

    Even though we will all die one day, the speaker notes that his beloved is alive now, at least until the break of day. The image of dawn breaking reminds us even more of the passing of time.

    Certainty, fidelity
    On the stroke of midnight pass
    Like vibrations of a bell, (21-23)

    The speaker brings up two symbols of time passing: a clock and a bell. These are two strong reminders that time is always ticking away, and that there's nothing we can do to stop it. Even the stable things in life – our certainty and our faithfulness – will pass as time passes. Nothing lasts forever. (He's really driving this point home, isn't he?)

    Beauty, midnight, vision dies; (31)

    Everything dies, not just humans, the speaker says here. Even midnight dies every night when the clock strikes 12:01. Tick tock, tick tock.