There was a poem on the 2015 AP English Literature and Composition exam multiple choice section that I only barely remember. The topic was along the lines of "sleep is as great an equalizer as death" and featured a line like "even the great emperor ... laid his head down to rest."

Does anyone know the title of the poem?

  • 1
    It's probably not the one you're looking for, but I'm reminded of these lines by Ogden Nash: Stalin and Hitler while they sleep/Are harmless as a baby sheep;/Tyrants who cause the earth to quake/Are only dangerous when awake./This world would be a happier place,/And happier the human race,/And all our pilots be less Pontius,/If people spent more time unconscious.
    – user14111
    Apr 14, 2019 at 2:46
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    This seems to be the exam you refer to, but I don't see any poems there that match this description.
    – Alex
    Apr 14, 2019 at 6:44
  • @Alex: That's the practice exam, not the actual paper. Apr 18, 2019 at 18:17
  • @GarethRees Isn't it the actual exam that is later used as a practice exam in future years? As far as I know, most practice books for standardized tests give you the actual tests from previous years to practice with.
    – Alex
    Apr 18, 2019 at 18:20

3 Answers 3


Not a poem per se, but this is a blank verse passage from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II, act 3, scene 1, that is often quoted, a testing board favorite, and covers the themes you've mentioned:

O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum'd chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull'd with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav'st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common 'larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.


Could it be The Shadow Of The Cross by John McCrae?

At the drowsy dusk when the shadows creep
From the golden west, where the sunbeams sleep
From the attic poor to the palace grand,
The King and the beggar went hand in hand.


Perhaps John Donne's Holy Sonnets 10? Donne explicitly argues that sleep is better than death. He doesn't call sleep an equalizer, but he does say that death is a "slave to ... kings and desperate men", which sleep isn't:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Admittedly this is a long shot, as I'd not expect American teenagers (even those taking AP English) to be able to tackle Donne in an exam setting.

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