Night time is my time. I’m not talking about the onset of dusk as the daylight closes up but the real, dark depths of the night. It’s when I really come to life, in body and in mind. I can cope with mornings if I absolutely have to – just give me adequate space and time (I’d estimate an hour at the very least) by myself to come to terms with the birds chirping, the light glinting through the curtains and the general displacement I feel with being awake at that portion of the day. Afternoon is when things start to kick in, the cogs start to whir, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. By evening I feel comfortable; on a particularly good day, positively chirpy. But it’s when the clock strikes twelve midnight – or slightly before – when I’m at my best. I like to think of it as a slight reversal of the Cinderella effect (not that my days are so oppressive or unbearable – that would be slightly too melodramatic); the world doesn’t lose its gloss or shine after that crucial hour, in fact all the stars and streetlights seem to shine that little bit brighter.
However, being a certified night-owl does have its drawbacks. Particularly in times of trouble, worry or just niggling annoyance, the dark hours can feel sometimes inescapable. Being both a creature of nocturnal habit and a lifelong over-thinker is certainly not a good combination. If thinking becomes its clearest in the shadows of night as opposed to the light of day then finding solace in sleep isn’t the easiest of tasks; there’s been many a time when each exceptionally early or very late – depending on how you choose to view it – hour has drifted by almost unnoticed while I endlessly toss and turn, trying to quiet my thoughts so I can get some shut-eye. Needless to say, counting neither the remaining hours until dawn breaks or sheep helps much (I do think that is something of a rural, rather than urban, myth…makes that’s why it doesn’t work for city-dwellers?) and I greet the new morning with a bigger sigh and sense of confusion than I would normally.
If anyone can write beautifully about a bout of insomnia – and dare I say it, even make it sound in parts something to be envied – then it is Shakespeare. As a writer, a playwright, a creative person, it is entirely understandable that Shakespeare himself would be all too familiar with a mind that awakens intensely at night; the idea of his soul having an ‘imaginary sight’ richly describes how it takes on a life of its own. Yet as ever with Shakespeare, there is more to this sonnet than meets the eye. It is not just creativity that stimulates, but also longing – not for sleep or rest, but for love. The mentions of ‘a journey in my head’ and the ‘zealous pilgrimage’ to a desired one seem almost pre-meditated, evoking more power and control over one’s faculties than physical exhaustion does. Perhaps sleep is overrated after all, if lack of it inspires such a wonderful sonnet.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)