aubade: love song to dawn. or, perhaps, salvation.
aubade (o-bad), n. [Fr., from aube, dawn.] love song or poem to dawn, or about lovers separating at dawn; distinguished from serenade, or nocturne, love song to, at, or pertaining to night.
so says the dictionary, that plainspoken repository of meaning and use. but turn to a literary teller of meaning, and you’ll find definition with deeper-grained truths: “welcoming or lamenting the arrival of dawn.” a word given to us by the medieval french (who else would assign a whole category of poetic lament for lovers not wanting to part?), a word adapted from the spanish, alba, for “sunrise,” which borrowed from the latin, alba, the feminine form of albus, meaning “white.” aubade is a word first used in 1678, a word pinned on these particular proliferous poems, of which you will find 44,478 aubades tucked in the files of the poetry foundation. which, of course, is a lot of folks paying attention to the dark edge of daybreak.
i’ve long been drawn to this hour — that interlude when one minute it’s inky and silent, not even a ripple of breeze, as if the world hasn’t yet roused from its sleep, and the very next instant the stars have faded, the light’s seeped in, and the first warbles of bird can be heard.
this week, for reasons having to do with an imagination that would not stop imagining the scene in a synagogue just as the bullets rang out, the heads bowed in prayer in the sacred suspension of time that is shabbat, and for reasons having to do with worries about children applying to college, i woke each morning at 4. and i could not find sleep again.
so i rose. one morning i reached out my arm and instinctively clicked on the radio. right away, before my eyelids had clicked fully to “open,” i heard the radio squawking about opioid addictions and police activity at that ungodly hour. i clicked off the radio; the assault was too early, and i was too raw. the first sounds seeping in needn’t be awful.
so i tiptoed downstairs in the dark. i didn’t flick a single light switch along the way. i headed straight for the back kitchen door. stepped into the chill of that soundless hour, and i looked up and into the heavens. i stood there, soaking in the night’s last offering: the star-stitched canvas above. the moon, all crescent and brilliantly white. i basked in the stillness. the sense that i alone was awake and paying attention. the sense that this time belonged only to me and my soul, and the great breath of God flowing into and out of my whole.
then i partook of my sacrament with seeds: i turned back to the house, reached into my birdseed bin, filled the banged-up coffee can with sunflower seed, and returned to my stash of feeders. there is something holy about making the first act of the day one of tending to others, especially when the others are weightless and feathered and seem to exist only to fill you with song. and the delights of their darting hither and yon.
by then, the goosebumps were cropping up. and my bare feet (for i’ve not yet decided it’s the season for shoes) protested. so into the house i hurried, into the early-morning percolations of a house beginning to wake: furnace starting to hiss, coffee pot gurgling its soon-to-come promise.
in times like these we all need tucked-away coves that shield us and shroud us and keep away the goblins. in times like these — and for centuries it seems, all the way back to the middle ages when the first aubades were inscribed — we humans seem drawn especially to the hours when “the curtain-edges will grow light,” as the poet philip larkin famously wrote, or “the encroaching skyline pecked so clean by raptor night,” as christian wiman even more brilliantly put it.
it’s the margin, the demarcation, the abyss followed by the eternal promise, the rising of the sun. it’s our emptiness quietly, certainly, being filled up again. it’s the hour when we’re quiet enough to hear ourselves breathe, and perhaps, if we’re blessed, to catch one or two whispers from the still small voice that never, ever is quelled.
what’s your sacred hour? and how do you carve out the stillness so necessary for what amounts to salvation?
I love the early hour when it’s still dark … though these days it’s more like 5:30 or 6. I never think to go outside … will have to ponder that, keep the winter coat close by to grab w/o creaking a closet door hinge to get it. Walked with a pal this morning while the dawn was breaking, the crescent moon still a-winking. In the midst of all the horror, autumn still comes with its blaze of yellow-orange, reminding us to hope, I guess, even when all seems lost. xoxo
oh, my gracious, that’s amazing that you were out walking at that hour! and, yes, the blaze of yellow-orange, the world aflame. i see promise in those colors…..xoxoxo
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is
spread with the same.
And to me, every hour of night and day is a sacred hour, because life is a miracle…
Once again, your words are just what I needed. Beautiful, so beautiful… Thank you, bless you. xoxo
Ah, thank heaven for Whitman. And you.
My sacred hour, too, is the time before daylight. I thank the Creator for the gift of sleep and ask for hours of peace and love before the assault of reality begins. The stillness of that early hour seems to provide me with the strength I need to face the challenges of the day.
Dear Bam, a thread of love connects us and the water which splashed along the shoreline blocks from your house eventually finds its way to the shoreline down the hill from my house (albeit a few degrees colder). Just this morning at 7:40, which is the moment before sunrise I bellowed and beckoned for my little one to pause her Netflix cartoons and join me on the backyard porch. Even though we have only lived in this house for a mere 5 months, I think my little one has already tired of my “stop everything” proclamations. On this day, this season when I stumble trying to teach my daughter about hope, mercy and peace, while also being honest about the pain in the world. Wendell Berry writes about the peace of wild things. When I am at a loss for words and my heart aches, I need to turn towards our back porch at the moment when the line between darkness and pure light disappears. Although My daughter wanted to get back to her precious privilege of Saturday morning screen time, she did admit, albeit with a bit of grumbling that it was in fact beautiful. I need to remember that part of my calling as a mother is to invite her to look for the light at the edge of the horizon.
beautifully, beautifully put, dear stacey. as i think back over the years and chapters of your postings, from longing for motherhood to now in the deep of it. and always and through, wisdom is your strong suit. and your eloquence: “my calling as a mother is to invite her to look for the light at the edge of the horizon…..”
isn’t that the calling for all of us, even to ourselves?
sending love from the edge of my great lake to yours.
miss you. love knowing you are settled back into the earth that rooted you.