I had a secret sleep on the sofa yesterday afternoon. It snuck up on me. One moment I was sitting upright, reading, next moment, my head was melting into my shoulders like wax down a lit candle. I was subsiding and I did not resist the slide. I leaned into it, lay myself and the book down, shut my eyes, and let my breathing fall into rhythm with the chug of re-routed buses hauling themselves up and down the road outside. It is a lovely feeling, that of the unscheduled afternoon sleep, sunlight pouring in, nowhere to be, no one to see, life temporarily abandoned. And, because one hasn’t taken the conscious decision to go to bed, it is far from a slothful act. On the contrary, it is restorative, it is civilised, it is – I tell myself – a time-honoured tradition, a ladylike siesta.
François Boucher’s, A Lady on Her Day Bed, is a Rococo style painting that is part of the New York Frick Collection. It was painted in 1743 and features Boucher’s wife waking from her sleep, semi-reclined, head upon hand, leaning on one elbow. She wears a bonnet, pink and white, tied in bow under her chin; it matches the peach-pink day bed on which she is resting. She has, I think, just woken, as her corset seems loose, and her tiny feet are poking out from under voluminous skirts and petticoats. The room around her is undone, things are unsettled, crumpled. Some cloth is tossed on a footstool next to her. A letter and notebook sit precariously on the edge of a small table within her reach. A ball of thread lies unspooled on the floor. Everything has been dropped for the sake of a quick nap. Her cheeks are blazing red – it must be the fashionable makeup of the day for the well-to-do French because I have only seen cheeks like that on teething babies – and her eyes are glaze-dazed, still sleep-muddled. Everything about the painting is slightly decadent: a wife with nothing better to do than recline on her day bed; a husband with nothing better to do than to paint her. And I love it. I love the warmth of the light, the slow ticking of time, the unhurried look in her gaze, the relaxed notion that she might, at any moment, lie down again and steal another ten minutes. Most of all, I love the permission it grants me to sleep by day under the summer sun.
Sleep and Poetry, John Keats (extract) What is more gentle than a wind in summer? What is more soothing than the pretty hummer That stays one moment in an open flower, And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower? What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing In a green island, far from all men's knowing? More healthful than the leafiness of dales? More secret than a nest of nightingales? More serene than Cordelia's countenance? More full of visions than a high romance? What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes! Low murmurer of tender lullabies! Light hoverer around our happy pillows! Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows! Silent entangler of a beauty's tresses!