Sunday, June 15, 2008

How Now, Mad Spirit?

How now, mad spirit?
What nightrule now about this haunted grove?

Oberon, King of Fairies
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 4 & 5

William Shakespeare

Nightrule -- what a great word. I looked it up in the glossary of William Shakespeare: Complete Works. (There, in the same book, it appeared as "night-rule.") The definition: "disorder by night." It wasn't in my American Heritage Dictionary, but I found it online in Sheridan's Dictionary of the English Language from1797. It was there without the hyphen and was defined as "a tumult in the night."

Haven't we all experienced that? Now, with our windows open to the warm and humid air, once "the iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve" (Theseus, act 5, scene 1, line 357), we hear more than gentle breezes in the maples. Although it's usually quiet on my hill, sometimes, depending on the wind, I can hear the not-so-distant noise of trucks and trains. Once "night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast" (Robin, act 3, scene 2, line 380), I hear nocturnal creatures working the busy night shift. Half-dreaming, I listen to the coyotes up in the woods howl in answer to occasional sirens. I'm haunted by the owl's melancholy hoot as it circles the yard. Once in a while, I shiver at the rare, almost human scream of something being carried away in a beak. Of course the most unsettling "tumult in the night" is the noise of the mad spirits inside our own minds, the murmuring and scratching of our own unsleeping shadows.

The photograph was taken 6/11/08. Click on the image to enlarge. The miniature mask from Bhutan was a gift from my younger brother, world traveler.

2 comments:

Vesper de Vil said...

my apartment building was mad with nightrule last night, or perhaps i was just very sensitive to every shift and sound.

Christine said...

It sounds like a restless night. Luckily both my outdoor and interior mad spirits were silent last night. Good for sleeping, but sometimes "nightrule" translates into poetry, right? Keep listening...