Variation on the Word Sleep

A poem by Margaret Atwood, published in The Atlantic in 1980

Margaret Atwood is best known as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian vision of patriarchal control that established her as a complicated literary prophet in the #MeToo era. But her writing over the past six decades has been prolific and her subject matter wide-ranging, unbounded by the genre or the political conversation that have come to define her public image.

Though Atwood has not yet published her fiction in The Atlantic, she has contributed eight poems to the magazine since 1969. In “Variation on the Word Sleep,” first printed in 1980, she offers a stirring expression of love—one remote from the particular traumas of Gilead, but written with some of the same lyrical urgency as her novels.

— Annika Neklason