Thursday 20 October 2022

Are Your Ports Of Slumber Wide Open?

S-is-for Swan
Do not despair, Mae, sleep may yet come.

'Tis Night, dead Night, and weary Nature lies
So fast, as if she never were to rise ...

Nathaniel Lee, Theodosius, c. 1680

'Tis night, dead night, and yet your weary self is not as dead to the world as you would like. The mind is whirring with matters of great or small import* and sleep is elusive. 

Whilst dramatist Mr. Nathaniel Lee spake of the delicious kind of sound sleep as being as fast as Death itself, you may be inclined to think that since he was certified a madman and had a goodly spell in Bedlam to boot, mayhaps his words are thus ravings? But no! As we do know what he's on about and have from time to time slept like a log, the dissipated lunatic in fact speaks of the nighttime goal! So what is to be done when your ports of slumber are troubled and stand wide open?

Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow,
Being so troublesome a bedfellow?
O polish'd perturbation! golden care!
That keep'st the ports of slumber wide open
To many a watchful night!

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, c. 1597

Loath though Your Correspondent is to deliver instructions, a slumber-inducing tip was passed to me by a friend and as I find it works a treat, I shall pass it along to try if you find yourself perturbed and tossing and turning in your own swan bed one night. It's a variation on the Counting Sheep model for stopping the incessant chatter and skittishness of the nocturnal mind, which I've dubbed Animal/Vegetable/Mineral and can be tweaked to suit oneself.

The starting idea was to mentally flick through the alphabet, visualising five different animals whose name starts with each letter as you pass it, (a very apposite enterprise when the Good Doctors found themselves on safari in Africa with similar jet-lagged travellers), and by determinedly trying to think up what's actually quite tricky to do, focussing on this task will quiet the mind and sleep will come.

After giving this a go for a while, I discovered that my knowledge of the natural world was lacking in that I couldn't sufficiently identify five animals by sight for each letter, while oftentimes more than one parse of the alphabet was required before sleep finally came. Prescription to these failings came by widening the net and sweeping in a few of my favourite things.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo, "Vertumnus", 1591

Viz. take each letter of the alphabet in turn and exhaustively (hem hem) visualise all the animals, fruit and vegetables, plants and flowers, metals and gemstones which start with that letter. So alongside your menagerie you can be lulled to sleep by a veritable cornucopia of beauteous nouns**! 

C: Caterpillars are handsomer thus

Nota bene: my customised couple of caveats: in the animals department, no spiders-and-snakes or other creepy crawlies that might be classed as nightmare-inducing & in the plants department, no weeds or ugly things. 

Divine Mughal emerald
E: elephant, eggplant, & mmm ... emerald! ...

My own choice images run the gamut of real-life remembrances, photos, jewellery, objet d'art, cartoons, postcards, artwork; a payoff for spending an inordinate amount of time in galleries and books and on the internet, and owning lots of Stuff. Mentally wandering through my favourite greengrocery for fruit & vegetable prompts helps, as does a well-stocked garden to call upon. Plus a natural attraction to, ahem, shiny baubles.

Since some letters are still hard to furnish with a decent array of attractive nouns, doubling up mental stock images is perfectly fine: 
This beauty qualifies for A-is-for Amaryllis and H-is-for Hippeastrum. Very handy when you are across the Latin names for the plant world.

Phil Went, Summer Fruit and Bowl oil

This three-for can pop up as C-is-for Cantaloupe, R-is-for Rockmelon and M-is-for Melon.

Iain Welch Dog

And while D-is-obviously-for Dog, it is also multiplies usefully into Dachshund, Dalmatian, Dingo and Doberman. So long as you know what they each look like.

Ordinarily, Vulture should be disqualified as these birds are in the ugly camp, but if you have a good mental stock of Gary Larson cartoons to call upon when you get to the tricky V-is-for, you're in luck!

Ditto for Shark if you're circling around S getting a bit desperate the alphabet is nearly done and you're still awake.

Carl Bertuch

You get the drift. I find I get bogged down sorting the cloven-hoofed ruminants, for gazelles and antelopes, impalas and gnus all look much the same.

François-Xavier Lalanne, Gorille de Sûreté

The primates and big cats also need close attention, but that's all for the good. It keeps the mind on the task, for segueing off is always a given. There's nothing like a few choice prompts to have the wakeful mind skittering off again so a firm hand is needed.

So, if you find your Shakespearean ports of slumber are wide open one night, snuggle down in a quiet and darkened place and try thumbing through your mental illustrated dictionary for the A to Zzzz's that will hopefully drag those ports firmly shut.

* A whole other topic for another post.

** Of course, if your pet subject is for inst. tropical fish or dinosaurs, go mad and supplement therein. Similarly, the man-made world is ripe for exploitation and if motor cars or the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods is your Mastermind Special Subject, throw that into the mix and the humble alphabet may thusly send you into the arms of Morpheus.

Image credits: 3, 6, 11, Wikimedia Commons; 7: Blue Thumb; 8: Iain Welch Art & Design; all else via Google



    1. I do hope a procession of rather distinctive critters before your mind's eye works to lull you back to sleep, too, dearest Contessa. All is well here. I have been nowhere, done nothing special but read and fling myself about dance studios and the usual other pedestrian stuffs. Yes, we've had crazy off-the-scale amounts of rain - something like double the annual average and the year isn't nearly done yet - and sharing some of this around with the drought-stricken would be wonderful! xx

  2. When I was a schoolboy, my mother bought me a book entitled 'SLEEP' from the newsagent on the station platform where I was about to catch my train up to Cambridgeshire. When I got to school I read the book several times and became fascinated by the amount of study and detail that had gone into its writing. I wish I still had the book; I'd read it again.

    1. The first book on the science of sleep that I read was only in the past few years - Matthew Walker's "Why We Sleep" - also absolutely fascinating. I imagine, dear Cro, that since the time of your book the leaps made with modern imaging technology to try to understand the seemingly unknowable must be quite extraordinary, too.

  3. Dear Pip - as always I am so enchanted when you open your treasure chest of beautiful things and highly interesting thoughts! Thank you!
    So much to think and write about that it would push boundaries of blog-comment.

    A fascinating idea I instantly tried out is the collection of alphabetic subjects.

    Of course I choose the kingdom of plants - and thus have a wide, wide choice: their names in German language - I look at your picture with the melon and - being a master of little things - notice the blueberries, tremble for the one on the edge and being an optimist believe it will not fall down - and start to recite their German names : Blaubeere, Bickbeere, Heidelbeere, then the English ones: blueberry, blue wortleberry, huckleberry - here I digress into the realm of literature and then I ponder if I am really right with huckleberry (about Finn I am sure), then wonder if Scottish blaeberry would be accepted? To be on the side of security I choose the international language that gardeners speak, they do not need Esperanto, no, they talk in Latin - about Vaccinium mirtillus - and stray from that to the quality of the now quite cheap cultivated blueberries, big as marbles now and not colouring your teeth and tongue anymore, and then my Czech favourite children book flashes through my mind, the one about the lazy boy who should gather blueberries in the woods, who makes a deal with a fairy: she gives him a flute which lures the blueberries to look up to be collected - but if he has the flute he has no basket to put them into or - when he has a basket he has no flute and doesn't see them...drowsily I try to figure out what was the message or moral here, there was one, I am sure... but I am not sure about the blueberries now - it might have been wood strawberries, so much more delicious than garden strawberries but tiny, thus hiding under the foliage, here a flute makes sense to make them look up... Fragaria vesta against Fragaria ananassa... zzzz, zzzz..zzzz...

    1. Dear Britta, you have taken the bull by the horns here and double-somersaulted into a perfect landing ... into the land of nod! What an excellent customised variation on the theme and a lovely insight into the byways of your own interesting mind. It's wonderful that the humblest of members of the natural world are worthy of a meandering nocturnal dissertation all of their own, enriched by a variety of languages and imagery and cultural references, and won't be offended if one might fall asleep in the very act of celebrating them in our mind's eye.

  4. What animal name begins with the letter 'Q'? (Oops! Our state bird is a quail...) FOr this nocturnal exericse, one might have to cheat a bit and choose an animal name in another language. Qualle, the German word for 'jellyfish', comes to the rescue! Or choose another continent, of course, and be met by a smiley-faced Quokka. :D

    1. The Q is not too tricky, dear Bea, for under the quartz-strewn quinine tree you can find quails, quolls and the adorable quokkas feasting upon quinces! You're right, more fun can be had when you open the door to all foreign comers.

  5. I suspect Mae West didn't sleep much in that bed.


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