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Early to Rise: Thoreau and Aurora

January 22nd, 2008 | 4 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

"All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigourous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning." Henry David Thoreau

AuroraI am no shining crown of practical virtue. In this my twenty-fifth year I am still struggling to eat fruits and vegetables every day, to exercise five to seven times a week, to plan out my week ahead of time and actually stick to the plan. Sometimes I still write reminders on my hand.

Especially sticky, a thorn in my side, has been the simple habit of going to bed at a reasonable time. Insomnia and late-night life has kept my bedtime somewhere between late, very late and extremely late.

I am amazed at the number of practical and spiritual consequences to not rising with the sun. Staying up, I have spent countless hours on internet browsing and Facebook checking. Sleeping in, I have been late to important meetings. I have forgone prayer and exercise for the sake of a rushed bowl of cereal and breathless Patre Nostrum. I have
avoided or ignored pressing commitments until the last minute. This has not been working.

Then it struck me! It all comes back to not getting up early, which all comes back to not going to bed early. Do I deserve an award for Noticing the Obvious? I did not realize that Benjamin Franklin meant it. To hear the true meaning of a platitude or truism, reverse it: "Late to bed and late to rise makes a man unhealthy, stupid and poor." That's three for three!

Perhaps there is no such thing as a "night person." The sun is like a light in your room that God turns on. Who are we to contradict him? "If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But for the one who walks in the night, he stumbles." Are we so special...?

Humanity has survived and thrived for centuries without electric lights, but now we cannot imagine ceasing our bustle by eight PM? How strange. It's like thinking that no one looked at "la luna y las estrellas" until the advent of Middle English when the words "moon" and "star" came into being.
So, with all the speed of an ocean liner I began to change course. I resolved to be my own parent (mustn't we all?), to enforce regular sleep patterns, to ween myself off an alarm clock, and to nourish the habit of rising with the sun.

This morning marks the first success in this endeavor, as I sat down at dawn to prepare for next Semester's Torrey Academy classes by reading Henry David Thoreau. The following texts confronted me, with all the weight and resonance of divine providence:

Henry David Thoreau, Walden - Where I Lived: 132-145ff (Penguin Classics):

"Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks...

The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night...

It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"