Now the night doesn’t want to leave the cooling land, even when day’s long red incense-smoky fingers thread through the leafy boudoirs of the robins and feel along the eaves of houses, then down into tangled grass. Dreams, ardent silver, linger in shadows, wanting time to finish just one more chapter -- memory and storylines still wreathing pillows.
The night cat, who sleeps in the window by my computer so as to monitor moon traffic through the yard, thumps down to the floor. The day cat, who spends her nights stretched along my back, tenses slightly to see if I woke up. I try to stay loose, stay warm, stay with the dreams. I open one eye to check the alarm clock but if I turn my head, the day cat will also be up and both cats will wreath my feet, asking for breakfast while I scratch my head.
When I got up this morning, my head was full of one of the first poems I read in the modern poetry unit as a high school student: “Jane, Jane, tall as a crane...” The title was “Aubade.”
“The morning light creaks down again;
Comb your cockcomb-ragged hair,
Jane, Jane come down the stair.”
Where does it go from there? It’s Edith Sitwell. Was the name of her estate “Aubade?” Might it be an old family name? Or the name of the maid? “Aubade, where’s my tea?”
When the cats are fed, the night cat goes out to check the perimeter and the day cat goes back to bed for another hour, hoping I’ll come back, too, and bring my body heat. But I settle at the computer to see what the English and the East Coasters have to say. This time of year the sun comes up red between my back garage and my neighbor’s tree, the sky stained red with faraway fires. Get online. Find search engine. Google. Hmmm. Wikipedia. I’m still yawning.
Surprise! “Aubade” is the formal name for a particular kind of poem or song when lovers must separate at dawn but don’t want to. What a great name for a blog! Here’s a famous aubade in a play:
“Will thou be gone? It is not yet near day;
it was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc’d the fearful hollow of thine ear!”
Romeo and Juliet. I knew you’d recognize it! The Zefferelli version, surely!
Some resourceful poets slipped the meaning from the romantic to the metaphysical:
“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.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.”
Philip Larkin, always the cheerful one.
I like the line that says:
“Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.”
Two others are mentioned in the Wikipedia article, one by Carl Phillips about peaches knocked off the trees by a storm in the night and one by William Empson in 1937 that claims
“Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake.
My house was on a cliff. The thing could take
Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.
Then the long pause and then the bigger shake.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.”
The last line becomes a refrain, alternating at the end of each stanza with “The heart of standing is you cannot fly.” Double-meanings, ambiguity, maybe even oxymoronic contradiction. (Wait! Go back! Those peaches -- flesh?) This aubade is timely for SoCal, but written in 1937 might also be about war. My big discovery my sophomore year of high school was metaphor, trope, letting one thing stand for another, all roads and rivers are about the journey of life, all dawns are about awakenings, all days lead to partings. Somewhere in there all the Unitarians stopped singing vespers songs and turned to the morning songs: “morning has broken,” “the morning hangs a signal,” “morning so fair to see,” “the morning, noiseless, flings its gold.” Did that mean a turn to optimism? Or a call for renewal?
The aubade wiki mentions song, as well as poetry, and lists a Francois Poulenc concerto (1929) and Maurice Ravel (“Alboarado del Gracioso”) in a piano suite called Miroirs (1906). Then points out, rather playfully, “Eagle-Eye Cherry’s” 1997 single called “Save Tonight.” I didn’t look for the Poulenc or Ravel recorded online, but it was easy to find Eagle-Eye Cherry’s song with accompanying video which is narrative with Eagle-Eye becoming whomever he met.
Now you have enough stuff to do a little school-starting unit as the academic year begins to wake up with crayon sales and spiral notebooks. What new ingenious version of 3-ring binders? What scramble is the superintendent making to find one last teacher who had handle one-fourth French, one-half remedial English and one-fourth PE as well as coaching volleyball? What smoky and mysterious memories of summer?
Once when I was very small, I woke up before anyone else in the house woke up and slipped quietly down the stairs. The back door lock had always been a puzzle -- it was an ordinary skeleton key but had a little device shaped like a question mark to keep it from being turned -- but on this morning I figured it out. I even had enough strength to unhook the screen door. There was the backyard, made strange with shadow and dew. I crept out like the night cat, all alert, then padded silently back to my bed like the day cat. I wasn’t sure I didn’t dream it until my mother exclaimed over the door standing open when she got up. I’ve always had a weak boundary between fact and dream. Ever since I’ve known the earliest hours are the sweetest ones, even with the tang of chill and the risk of night critters not quite departed.
Here’s another aubade from the Unitarian hymn book:
“This land of bursting sunrise, all lavendar and blue, its cloud-strewn, light-swept day skies flow, and every day renew. To east the glow of dawning, to west the blaze of night, ‘round all the long horizon’s rim, the everlasting light. This land of open vistas, life rooted deep and free, thy canyoned plains, thy mountains vast, plumb earth’s immensity.” John Haynes Holmes wrote the words. The tune is “Andujar.” I Googled that and found a whole other world, rather like opening a door. It IS a place -- and a name.