I’ve never really been a morning person, but having a dog as a companion is gradually turning me into one (even though – touch wood – he seems to be sleeping through the night now). We get up and let him out, and when I step outside I experience that thing that has been somewhat alien to me of late of light entering the dark. The winter is not so cold these weeks, and on a day like today the air is crisp. A bird sings, somewhere in the hush behind me a solitary car whooshes by, I sense an anticipation in the suburban streets. Everything awaits.
I’m taken back over a decade to the January we moved to Colorado, when I was still sleeping on Greenwich Mean Time. Those first days, the time difference meant we woke very early. We drank American coffee, and saw the sun come up, and in due course the drifts of snow were sparkling in those suburban streets. The same hush and waiting. The world was fresh and new. Soon, the kids from a neighbouring Japanese family were making snow angels.
(These are winter dawns, of course. Summer dawns are probably too early for me, though I have in the past relished staying up and seeing the sun rise. I remember us leaving a bar in Oslo one midsummer at 2 a.m., and it was still light – a squinty light, but light.)
The aubade is a poetic form that either greets or laments the dawn. It can be traced to the troubadours of medieval France, who sang of lovers – often secret lovers – who were to be separated by day’s break.
For this week’s writing experiment: one morning, set your alarm half an hour earlier, and get up and write your own aubade. It can take a poetic form (sonnet, villanelle, a series of haiku), or it can use some open form; perhaps, in fact, if you usually write open forms it might be good to try something more structured for a change, and vice versa. If poetry does not come easily to you today, write a letter to someone, maybe your secret lover, or your pretend secret lover. Or even write a letter to the dawn.
Though it will make for stronger writing if you can bring to life some of the world you observe around you, it will also be good to harness these details to some purpose in the writing: some sense of a leavetaking in the passing of time, some sense of what or who the new day is taking or bringing.
Here’s an article on aubades in the Guardian that contains a lot of links to examples, and here and here are other links from the Poetry Foundation, including a tab to a very detailed poem guide to ‘The Sun Rising’ by John Donne that is worth reading, though don’t let this sort of reading clutter your instinctive early-morning writing time. (However, do bookmark and revisit the Poetry Foundation at some point, if you have the slightest inkling, as it offers a TON of resources on all manner of things.)
Importantly: after you wake, don’t delay your writing. This writing experiment is about process and times for writing, as much as about the work you generate. Write in bed, perhaps, though that might not be easy if your secret or not so secret lover is asleep in bed beside you (though maybe that could inspire you). Otherwise, get up and go straight to your desk or your writing armchair, and write yourself out of your sleep state. Maybe prepare a flask of tea or coffee, so you don’t interrupt yourself by making something to drink. Or maybe you should wait, and let your thirst and hunger feed you.
Then write from the dawn, in the dawn. Let your writing wake you.