Y’all, I was a weird kid. It’s debatable whether kid me or adult me is the weirder, but all of me likes reading. I rode the bus to and from elementary school for a while, sometime in 5th or 6th grade, and the protective talisman I chose to lug back and forth from home to school was The Complete Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was an older edition, with a fancy embossed cover, and it gave me the magical abilities to hide my face away from the scary world inside it, and to hide my brain away inside its words.
Like many things I read when young, I couldn’t possibly have fully understood them, but I learned a lot from context, and some of it stuck. As an added bonus, many people were sufficiently put off by the cognitive dissonance of a child reading a large volume of Tennyson to give me a wide berth, and being left alone on public transit has been all my introverted little heart has desired since my first foray onto the bus.
Not a lot of the Tennyson has stuck with me, but now and then odd bits resurface. Today I was thinking about the strange, poorly understood relationship between our conscious, waking minds, and our unconscious, sleeping selves, and this line from Tennyson came floating back up “To Sleep I give my powers away; My will is bondsman to the dark…” so I went back and reread the poem in its entirety, and it really struck a chord.
Like many people, I have been extra anxious and traumatized lately (see: global pandemic, earthquakes local to me, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc, etc). I have deployed so many tricks to fight my demons during my waking hours to no avail. My baseline anxiety remains at an all-time high. But today someone smart suggested that perhaps all my efforts avail me not because my mind spends its nights doing battle with trauma (currently a lot of earthquake nightmares) rather than doing its necessary intake and indexing of the day’s input.
I’ll be trying some things to see if I can settle the nightmares down, and if that helps with the background anxiety levels. In the meantime, this Tennyson poem is where it’s AT.
In Memoriam, [To Sleep I give my powers away] by Alfred Lord Tennyson
To Sleep I give my powers away; My will is bondsman to the dark; I sit within a helmless bark, And with my heart I muse and say: O heart, how fares it with thee now, That thou should fail from thy desire, Who scarcely darest to inquire, "What is it makes me beat so low?" Something it is which thou hast lost, Some pleasure from thine early years. Break thou deep vase of chilling tears, That grief hath shaken into frost! Such clouds of nameless trouble cross All night below the darkened eyes; With morning wakes the will, and cries, "Thou shalt not be the fool of loss."