Hymn to the Night
“I heard the trailing garments of the Night
Sweep through her marble halls!”
He paused, his voice caught on the edge of the last syllable. Closing the book, marking the page with a carefully placed finger, he stood and moved past the bedroom door towards the balcony.
The lights of the city still shone at this late hour. He should have gone to sleep long before. Lori had asked him to join her when she went to bed, but he had refused; rather curtly he thought – reexamining his response as an afterthought.
Opening the door he stepped outside. He paused at the rail, savoring the hushed peace that cities only reach sometime between 2 and 4 o’clock in the morning. Sitting in a chair, he opened the book, tilted it upwards to catch the lines in the dim glow of the reading lamp inside.
“I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
From the celestial walls!
I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
Stoop o’er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
As of the one I love.”
He stopped again, and cleared his throat. The sound seemed too loud at this hour. He turned toward the book again, “I felt her presence, by its spell of might, Stoop o’er me from above;” That wasn’t right – didn’t suit his mood rather. Anyway, who would hear him at this hour – a crazy man on a balcony reading poetry out loud – he smiled and tried again. “I felt ‘his’ presence, by its spell of might, Stoop o’er me from above; The calm, majestic presence of the Night, as of the one I love.” He sighed; he hadn’t felt that particular calm, or majesty in close to two years. He kept reading, pitching his voice lower, more intimate.
“I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
Like some old poet’s rhymes.”
“Sorrow and delight…” he repeated softly. This particular old poet had penned these lines 400 years ago and things hadn’t changed - night remained the time for passion, and, to be honest about why he was awake at this hour, regrets.
He had sought a new companion, another to fill the emptiness he had felt growing inside. But the harder he tried, the less anyone or anything – seemed to satisfy. He imagined he must seem happier than he felt – Lori had noticed nothing seriously wrong, yet. The doctor, well, that was a different story; he had predicted disaster from the start. But it had seemed such a simple idea two years ago: when those things you valued more than life itself were gone, when you were bereft of the one who you had held most dear, you had to build new connections, new reasons to keep going.
He lifted his book, “once more, dear friends…” he muttered.
“From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there, --
From those deep cisterns flows.”
He loved this stanza, its acceptance of peace in the quiet hours of the night. He had not found that particular relief yet. He sought the quiet to acknowledge his regrets, refocus on his struggle forwards. The time must come soon, he knew, when he would need to alter his path. Things had not gone his way so far, although he realized others would see it differently. But his chance would come, and he would fight for it as he always had.
“O holy Night! From thee I learn to bear
What man has borne before!
Thou layst thy finger on the lips of Care,
And they complain no more.”
Recovering something from the mess he had made would be a Pyrrhic victory at best of course, some things were past reclaiming; vanishing without a word, back into the desert from which they had come. But he had been alone before, he could manage. He would not choose to lose this sorrow – it was all he had left of the past – but he would manage to live with it. He stared out at the city.
Finally, feeling the night chill creeping across the balcony, he stood and reentered the dimly-lit living room. He stretched out on the couch, scrunched a pillow under his neck and propped the book up on his chest.
“Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
The best-beloved Night!”
His voice rasped, and his eyes were dry as he read the last stanza. He wished for peace, yet could claim no balm here for his spirit. ‘Enough’ he thought to himself, at least the poet had found some succor. He closed his eyes, and envisioned the presence he only allowed himself to contemplate during these dark vigils. Lost in these dreams, he finally found his rest.
Waking the next morning, Lori glanced at the other side of the bed – empty. She stood and pulled her robe on. Going into the living room she found him asleep on the couch again. It was 6.30, but she guessed he had been up rather late again, and he could afford another half hour of rest. His sleepless nights had been increasing over the past few months, he would not say what was bothering him, but overall he seemed happy enough. She wasn’t worried.
There was a book lying on his chest, under his hand. She leaned down and gently pulled it free. Turning it over, she read the title “The Gentle White Poet: The Collected Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow” She walked over to the large bookcase in the corner of the room. Before she laid the book on the shelf, she opened the front flap. Written in a careful, yet firm hand she read:
Then read from this treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
On the completion of our five-year mission.
She closed the book and put it back in its place. Turning towards the kitchen to get some coffee, she idly wondered where Spock had gone. Jim never spoke of his absent friend.