In Defense of Staying Up Late

As I took a “sick day” from writing last night, I found myself, while attempting to escape the concentration required in writing, reading from an old set of books containing the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It will be a long term commitment to complete all of the material contained therein.  My attempt to escape intense cerebral acrobatics failing miserably; I went to bed still with the headache which precipitated the evening off.  Regardless, I am happy to report that the late night study was not in vain.  I found myself surprisingly refreshed emotionally by, not only the poems I read, but also by the editor’s notes before each new grouping of selections.

Imagine my surprise (and delight) to read a note the poet himself wrote to his editor and included with a poem he was submitting for publication.  The note said that it was completed and prepared for submission at three thirty in the morning, and then finished with the words, “…and now, to bed.”  While I neither aspire, nor anticipate the opportunity, to achieve the greatness of Mr. Longfellow, I am emboldened in learning of his similar nocturnal literary labors.  For some reason, the creative flow in my brain seems to begin in the late night hours and continues on until the wee hours of the morning, but is virtually non-existent in the daytime.  I will count myself in good company as I continue my lonely toil through the time when most of my readers are abed.

I know that many consider the night a time of fear, of retreat behind safe walls (and for some, with good reason), but for all of my life, the night time has been a time of discovery and of education.  Certainly, there were times when I was a child that the darkness was a time for misdeeds and mischief.  The darkness offered cover for acts of meanness and trickery, and I took the opportunity more than once.  But the memories I have of learning and of awe in the darkness far outweigh those childish acts.

I have always had a love of reading and that love pushed me to spend most evenings after the sun set, and well past bedtime, deeply absorbed in any book I could get my hands on.  Some were read by the light of a luminescent praying hands nicknack which had spent the previous hours in the light fixture absorbing the energy needed to light up the space under the blankets.  Others were read while hiding in the closet and closing the doors to prevent the tell-tale beams from alerting the authorities downstairs.  The reading material was wildly varied.  Orwell’s “Animal Farm”,  Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power Of Positive Thinking”, and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach were all read and questioned in the reading.  My reading material was usually considered in light of the Bible, which was also frequently on my reading list.  Then, just for fun, all of the Oz books were consumed by my fertile brain, followed by as many Tom Swift and Hardy Boys volumes as I could acquire.  I even read the Nancy Drew books, drawn to them after first reading “By the Light of the Study Lamp” by the same author.  The edition I read was one of the first 1930s era volumes, by then musty and brittle, but still fodder for a curious mind.  Books opened the path for imagination and the highway to learning.

There were a few nights that found me lying on the roof of the carport, the vantage point reached by crawling surreptitiously from the window in a dormer of the attic bedroom I shared with my brother.  Lying half on the flat gravel and tar roof, with my torso and head inclined onto the pitched shingles of the attached wash house, I reclined and considered the stars and the brilliant moon, imagining the possibilities that those vistas opened up to my young mind.

But, the music!  In those days of AM radios, sunset was the time when the low-powered local stations would go off the air and the “clear channel” stations would step up their power to beam to far-away places.  Exotic places like New Orleans and Chicago, cities only dreamed about in the hours of daylight, would stream their programs into my ear by way of the single ear bud, and I would be carried away.  On Saturday nights, from Nashville, the Grand Old Opry would bring the world of hillbilly and country music to me over the miles.  Then the stereo world of FM radio took my universe by storm, bringing such diverse styles as Deep Purple and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

It may be that I was just designed to enjoy the night time hours, or possibly a lifetime of breaking the rules has lead to this as a punishment, but I’m working at making the most of my opportunities.  I’m thinking that, as with many things, we needn’t be concerned so much with the peripherals, the time of day, the darkness, but with what we achieve with it.  Sleep is good (and necessary), and I do sleep.  But, I love the times of quiet and of space to dream and imagine, as well as to consider more serious and weighty matters.  And, the night has plenty of those times.

I found, as I read last night, some words that seem almost to be written to me and anyone who wants to impact their world.  In his “Voices of the Night”, Mr. Longfellow penned some autobiographical words about what influenced his work.  You’ll find an excerpt below.  The admonition to teach from our experiences and acquired knowledge seems to be apropos to our time, even though penned a century and a half ago.

And I can’t leave you without one slightly facetious thought that keeps intruding on my serious considerations.  My mind wants to leap to a verse in Ephesians that reminds us to take advantage of every opportunity.  The author of that book reminds us of the reason for his instruction…”Because the days are evil.”

“…and now, to bed.”

“Visions of childhood! Stay, O stay!
Ye were so sweet and wild!
And distant voices seemed to say,
“It cannot be! They pass away!
Other themes demand thy lay;
Thou art no more a child! 

 Look, then, into thine heart, and write!
Yes, into Life’s deep stream!
All forms of sorrow and delight,
All solemn Voices of the Night,
That can soothe thee, or affright,–
Be these henceforth thy theme.”

(from “Voices of the Night” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~American poet~1807-1882)




“I will love the light, for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness, because it shows me the stars.”
(Og Mandino~American Essayist~1923-1996)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved

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