This is the first version of a song that Ives published with different words as Those Evening Bells, which editor John Kirkpatrick cataloged as Kz 73b in his collection of 114 Songs in 1922. The text of The Sea of Sleep is by an unknown author; that of Those Evening Bells is by Thomas Moore.
Ives wrote this song after he resigned from his last professional appointment as a church organist and had been disappointed not to be appointed as an assistant professor to his old teacher Horatio Parker at Yale. At that point he made his celebrated decision to make his life's living in business (becoming a millionaire within a few years) and relegate his composing to his off hours, so as not to let any family he might have "starve on his dissonances."
From now on his music becomes progressively more radical. Within five years he was writing the most advanced music in the world, using ideas and techniques never before accomplished by any composer.
This song remains rather conventional. It has a flowing melody and a wave-like accompaniment. The only radical aspect of the work comes in the last two measures: To the words "I may wake on the morrow Beneath another sky" he makes an unprepared and surprising key shift to a remote key, ending a song that was in E flat throughout to the rare key of C sharp major.