a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning. (In the middle ages it referred to lovers needing to part with the dawn.)
It occurs to me how far we all come in life. I came across this poem by Philip Larkin, one of the great depressive geniuses I studied in college oh, about a million years ago. It seems at once relevant and a bit shocking, the kind of thing a young person would study without any particular grasp, or at least not a visceral one, of what is really going on in the author’s head (and heart). Here’s an excerpt (I redacted the really awful bits, since it’s a rumination on death, but you can look it up here).
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light…
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true…
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
From this perspective, and not the one I had when I first came across this 40 years ago, I can’t help thinking of this is a call to action rather than an admonishment to acceptance. What particularly resonates with me is not the idea that the world goes on per se, but the more important one in terms of transitions that a lot of the stuff I (we?) used to worry so much about is pretty irrelevant. “…telephones crouch, getting ready to ring / In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring / Intricate rented world begins to rouse.”
It’s not that we spend so much time on minutia, but that we spend so much time on stuff that isn’t nourishing to us. Minutia are actually pretty great if you attend to the right things. Think about the following passage from a quite different author, someone who is probably unknown compared to Philip Larkin, writing about the simple wonder of a day from the perspective of a pet:
Crystal Ward Kent
When you bring a pet into your life, you begin a journey – a journey that will bring you more love and devotion than you have ever known, yet also test your strength and courage.
If you allow, the journey will teach you many things, about life, about yourself, and most of all, about love. You will come away changed forever, for one soul cannot touch another without leaving its mark.
Along the way, you will learn much about savoring life’s simple pleasures – jumping in leaves, snoozing in the sun, the joys of puddles, and even the satisfaction of a good scratch behind the ears.
If you spend much time outside, you will be taught how to truly experience every element, for no rock, leaf, or log will go unexamined, no rustling bush will be overlooked, and even the very air will be inhaled, pondered, and noted as being full of valuable information. Your pace may be slower – except when heading home to the food dish – but you will become a better naturalist, having been taught by an expert in the field.
Too many times we hike on automatic pilot, our goal being to complete the trail rather than enjoy the journey. We miss the details – the colorful mushrooms on the rotting log, the honeycomb in the old maple snag, the hawk feather caught on a twig. Once we walk as a dog does, we discover a whole new world. We stop; we browse the landscape, we kick over leaves, peek in tree holes, look up, down, all around. And we learn what any dog knows: that nature has created a marvelously complex world that is full of surprises, that each cycle of the seasons bring ever changing wonders, each day an essence all its own.
You will find yourself watching summer insects collecting on a screen, or noting the flick and flash of fireflies through the dark. You will stop to observe the swirling dance of windblown leaves, or sniff the air after a rain. It does not matter that there is no objective in this; the point is in the doing, in not letting life’s most important details slip by.
In it’s simplest form, this isn’t a novel sentiment; we’ve all heard the expression “take time to smell the roses.” But it’s really more than that, something that is ageless, timeless and offers possibility in a way that we too often take for granted. For me, it ratifies the conversation I had with a good friend last night, about moving past the urge to be what I was before, to run things the way I did as a CEO, and perhaps a way of subverting or at least taming the sense of annoyance that surges to the surface whenever something isn’t the way I want it.
I did a google search on aubade as I was writing this. It’s apparently a sexy French lingerie company. Who would have thought? Take that, Philip Larkin.
It’s all good.