Nocturne

by Andrew Colliver


Original Language English

You are woken in the night
by something that cannot speak
in daylight, that has no purchase
in the hard currency of your life.

Outside is the shallow well
of a sleeping town; electric lights
peek faintly into black space,
and the lithe ghost of the dark

slips into the only house that
bids it welcome. Your husband
lies snoring, dreams of another
world, offers you rough the gift

of aloneness. Know this:
what arrives here cannot
be other than itself, and
has no care for you. It

has no words, and no respect
for yours, so finds your body,
colonises your spine, feeds
you up into the sea of stars. You

may think you are changing,
or hope; but you are simply
failing to forget, allowing
stillness to be recognised.

You are momentarily disappearing,
to enter your own voice, see
with your own eyes, become
the body you gave birth to;

you have returned to
your own faithfulness,
your own unimaginable
emptiness.



- From the unpublished manuscript A Day of Light, by Andrew Colliver

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The Autumn Equinox is coming up (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) -- a time to to slow down our work, to welcome the coming chill, to see the final splendor of nature's color, to greet the growing dark. It is a tentative time of transition. We feel fragile while our senses awaken when confronted by the uncertainty of winter. With the shorter days and longer nights, we turn from the outer world and renew our solitary citizenship in the worlds within.

The time calls to mind this poem I recently discovered by Andrew Colliver. A poem that aches with nighttime loneliness, yet it is a poem of awakening.

Some wonderful lines here:

[It] colonises your spine, feeds
you up into the stars...

You are simply
failing to forget, allowing
stillness to be recognised.

You are momentarily disappearing,
to enter your own voice...


And what about that final "unimaginable emptiness" --?

you have returned to
your own faithfulness,
your own unimaginable
emptiness.


The poet doesn't really suggest that the loneliness has gone, but there seems to be an impression of fulfillment and wholeness in this emptiness, a completion of one's being in some way.

Why do so many eastern traditions, most especially Buddhism, emphasize emptiness or nirvana? As a teenager I used to wrestle with this question: How could void ever be a goal? It seems so bleak, such a stark negative.

It took a lot of exploration along various pathways before this idea of "emptiness" finally had real meaning for me. The emptiness described is not an absolute vacuum, not a gray lifeless no-place. It is empty only in the sense that it is "thingless," free from the countless categories of mental objects and fixed definitions. Everything is still there, but it is fluid, no longer disconnected. This "emptiness" is in fact filled, filled with life! It is a great primal pool of potential and expansive awareness. What it is empty of is that most central of things which defines our reality: the little self, the ego. It is empty of the ego's endless stories about itself. It is empty of the ego's filtration of reality. There is no "I" in this emptiness ("You are momentarily disappearing."). Without that "I," there is finally seeing, but without a fixed point of perception. Without that "I," there is Being, but not separate beings.

Finally free from the small self's constant coloring of perception, things are simply as they are ("Know this: / what arrives here cannot / be other than itself...").

Settling into the wholeness and the life of that "emptiness"... now that's the way to spend a solitary night.








Nocturne