Morning comes like a great bird, sailing over the dark curve of the earth to illuminate the hills and trees. Dawn arrives like an angel’s burning sword, expelling night from the garden of this world. Sunrise melts to fresh dew the last wisps of frost across the lawn, a diamond sparkle in the golden angle of the sun’s first rays, and in the background always plays “Morning Mood,” the opening movement of Grieg’s first Peer Gynt Suite.
Or maybe “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”? Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” which movie soundtracks seem to use for scoring almost any uplifting scene? Hard to say, really, since I’m not at my best before noon. Or maybe mid-afternoon. Evening, certainly—by 6:00 p.m. or so, I’m raring to go: bright-eyed and bushytailed, facing the new day’s challenges with a well-rested dedication and commitment. Shouldering life’s burdens with a good and happy will.
Not that I have anything against the a.m. hours. They have their part to play in this crazy cavalcade of life, no doubt, and who am I to condemn times I’ve rarely encountered? Or, at least, rarely encountered from the sunny side. Most days I see the clock well past midnight: the early hours in their dark mood, when they dress in nightshades and prowl the deserted alleys and the empty docks down by the water. It’s a different look from the new morn, with its face all scrubbed, tying the strings of its bright apron around its gingham dress.
No, the only trouble with morning is that it comes too early in the day, while I’m still asleep. Given that measured time is a human invention—its arbitrariness revealed by the games we play with “daylight savings” (which may be the oddest phrase currently allowed in English without a doctor’s prescription)—you’d think somebody would do something about the way morning disappears before we night owls have a chance to appreciate it. I mean, the dawn-besotted music of Edvard Grieg does give me a sense of what it might be like, but why are early risers the only ones who get to taste the day’s worms?
I know I’m not alone in this circadian deprivation. Recent studies have suggested that the later classes begin, the better boys do in school. Girls less so—more proof, if it were needed, of the advantages American education gives its female students. My father always said that the one thing his two years in the Army taught him was how to get up in the morning. But he never said it with anything like fondness or gratitude in his voice.
In truth, I have measured out my life in broken alarm clocks, smashed in the ham-handed attempt to shut them off. I have spent my years with pillows curled around my head to block out the clatter of morning traffic. I think I made it to brunch a time or two, back when I was young, but breakfast is basically a dream of lives I haven’t led. Rex Stout’s assistant detective Archie Goodwin once admitted his need to find a way to wake up in the morning without resenting it: “It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’ and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick,” he agreed, “but I’d have to try it.” As would we all.
Back when I lived in Washington, there was a congressman who called me, looking for someone to meet him for breakfast once or twice a month and talk about the novels he had read as an undergraduate and wanted to have back in mind. I tried to explain to him that no one capable of talking about Ulysses is capable of doing it before noon—the mutual exclusivity of literary criticism and early rising a fact well documented in the literature—but he wasn’t buying it. “Morning is the best time,” he insisted. The town is quiet, the workday only started, and the mind fresher, more able to absorb ideas and operate efficiently.
Perhaps so. Perhaps each new morning glows with a golden and graceful light. Perhaps brightness falls from the air like luminous, new-minted coins, and the early worms gladly offer themselves up as sacrifices. Perhaps the world’s soundtrack plays a feel-good movie score from dawn to noon. Perhaps bevies of maidens really do scatter rose petals on those who rise to meet the day without bashing their alarm clocks and cursing the ungodly hours.
How would I know?