“If for one little morn of mirth,
This breast must feel long nights of pain,
Oh! Life, thy joys are nothing worth!
Then let me sink to rest — AND NEVER WAKE AGAIN!”
(page 607, lines 61-64)
In “Stanzas Written after Successive Nights of Melancholy Dreams”, the speaker describes nightmares that she has had. The last four lines, reproduced above, however, show how she does not wish to wake again because the pain is so horrible that joy is not worth the nightmares. In fact, in those same lines, the speaker states that she never wants to wake again. This shows the desperation of the writer and how she does not want to live, possibly mirroring Robinson’s short life, dying at the age of forty-two with just her daughter and a few of her friends attending the funeral.
Robinson’s life was very difficult and this poem was written seven years before her death, so it is likely that this is reflecting on her own life, which was long and filled with pain and sorrow. She most likely suffered from nightmares like this. For most of the poem, Robinson describes the dream and the Phantom that haunts her during the night, but it is the last stanza where this changes, namely in the line “Oh! Life, thy joys are nothing worth!” The speaker is so tired of having the nightmares with so little respite that she would rather stay asleep forever than have that little bit of joy. This might show that the speaker’s life is not truly happy while she is awake, perhaps reflecting on Robinson’s own unhappy life. At the time she wrote the poem, she had just started her writing career after a long period of sickness and debt.
The desperation is most evident in the last line, where Robinson uses capitalization to emphasize her point, which is “AND NEVER WAKE AGAIN!”. While this does seem a little over the top, it does show her desperation quite well and makes the reader understand just how desperate she is for these dreams to end. The speaker is desperate to make this pain stop because no amount of joy even makes it remotely bearable. This is illustrated in “If for one little morn of mirth,/ This breast must feel long nights of pain”.
While the poem may be reflective of Robinson’s life, it also shows desperation to escape life, even if that escape means pain and suffering. It also shows that the joy in the speaker’s life is not worth the pain and suffering.