Sleep is Supposed to Be

"Sleep is Supposed to Be" is the seventh song in Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson and was orchestrated in 1958.

Date: 1950Composer: Aaron CoplandText: Emily DickinsonSong Collection: Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

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“Sleep is supposed to be” foreshadows the final song of the cycle, “The Chariot,” in the motivic figures of the introduction. The two songs begin with almost identical rhythmic and melodic figures–only separated by a half-step.

“Sleep is Supposed to Be” continues with the theme of death, yet the text again treats death with Dickinson’s typical noble and curious stance instead of melodrama. Copland mirrors the tone of the text with a regal musical setting, featuring many dotted rhythms, which are indicative of marches or royalty. Large leaps characterize the vocal line, which make the text more declamatory in nature and less lyrical. He puts the emotion and drama not in the melody but instead in the tessitura of the vocal part–i.e. the natural heightened emotion that higher notes carry when sung (in contrast to middle register or lower notes).

Copland makes some interesting requests of the musicians. During the line “East of Eternity,” he asks the soprano to sing her loudest (triple forte) and requests the pianist’s triple forte chords to sound “clangorous.” This is the loudest moment of the entire song cycle–an announcement concerning the location of an afterlife. After the soprano’s final line, sung with chords only ringing (played before and not during her line) in the piano part, Copland calls for a long pause before starting the next song of the cycle.

–Christie Finn



Sleep is supposed to be
by Emily Dickinson

Sleep is supposed to be,
By souls of sanity,
The shutting of the eye.

Sleep is the station grand
Down which on either hand
The hosts of witness stand!

Morn is supposed to be,
By people of degree,
The breaking of the day.

Morning has not occurred!
That shall aurora be
East of Eternity;

One with the banner gay,
One in the red array, –
That is the break of day.

Related Information

Sheet Music

Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

Composer(s): Aaron Copland

Song(s): 1. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
2. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
3. Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
4. The World Feels Dusty
5. Heart, We Will Forget Him
6. Dear March, Come In!
7. Sleep is Supposed to Be
8. When They Come Back
9. I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
10. I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes
11. Going to Heaven!
12. The Chariot

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