“Now I Lay Me” is a short story by Ernest Hemingway from his second collection, Men Without Women. It’s one of the Nick Adams stories, and is set during his time in the First World War. Nick lies in a military hospital, doing his best to pass the long nights when he can’t sleep due to a traumatic experience. Here’s a summary of “Now I Lay Me”.
“Now I Lay Me” Summary
One summer, Nick lies awake all night on the floor, believing his soul will leave his body if he sleeps. He felt it happen when he was blown up one night.
He has various ways of occupying himself through the night. Sometimes he thinks of a trout stream he fished as a boy and imagines the experience in great detail, including using different kinds of bait like worms, insects and grasshoppers. He makes up new streams and fishes those.
He also prays over and over for everyone he has ever known. He remembers as far back as he can, which is being in the attic of his childhood home, and then remembers everything up to the war to call people to mind.
They burned some things from the attic before moving to a new house after his grandfather died. His mother often cleared out things at the new house. She cleaned out the basement and burned everything they didn’t need once when his father was out hunting. He came back and, with Nick’s assistance, raked out various tools that had been burned. The best arrow-heads were ruined.
On the nights Nick can’t remember his prayers he thinks of other things—names of animals, birds, fish, countries, cities, food and Chicago streets. Then he just listens. If there was a light, he could sleep. Sometimes, he’s sure he slept without realizing it.
On this night, Nick listens to the silk-worms eating the mulberry leaves. The other man lying in the room, John, is also awake. They smoke and talk about a few things—their difficulty sleeping, John’s wife back in Chicago who’s making good money, and his children.
“Now I Lay Me” Summary, Cont’d
John can’t sleep because he’s nervous. He’s Nick’s orderly because he speaks English. Nick is concerned their talking will wake up the others, but John says they sleep soundly and can’t understand English anyway.
Nick might get a job on a paper after the war. They talk about a columnist, Brisbane, who John likes.
John thinks Nick should marry an Italian girl with money. He’s young, good-looking and a war hero, so he could get whoever he wants. Nick says he’ll think about it, then agrees to do it when John persists. Nick says they should sleep now.
After a while, John is snoring. Nick listens to it then listens to the silk-worms again. He thinks of all the girls he’s known and what kind of wives they would be. He adds this to his routine for a while but gives up on it when all the girls blend together.
He goes back to trout-fishing and praying. He prays for John and is glad when he’s removed from active duty.
Months later, before going back to America, John visits Nick in a Milan hospital. He’s disappointed Nick hasn’t gotten married (and to this day he still hasn’t), and he’s sure marriage would fix everything.
I hope this “Now I Lay Me” summary by Ernest Hemingway was helpful.