Early to bed, early to rise

The prescription to awaken early and begin the day is not only a productivity recommendation. It is a temporal alignment of night and day, beginning and end, up and down of the sun and moon. It has been proverbially advanced by Aristotle and Benjamin Franklin. Nor is it in my opinion strictly metaphorical.  Since my teenage years I have arisen by rote and alarm at seven o’clock in the morning. That is at least until recently when I have to confess it instinctively displeases me to sleep late.

“The early morning has gold in its mouth”, a translation of the German proverb “Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund”.

Like it or not there is something incontrovertibly persuasive about the adage. If one were pressed to argue the point I would at a minimum recall that historically most of what transpires after nine o’clock in the evening is of diminished content and value. This naturally flies in the face of youthful ambition for the “late night crawl” and the conspicuously lascivious endeavours within the abbreviated late night or early morning hours. Perhaps it’s just as well that those enterprises are kept in the dark. By contrasting account the incomparable shimmer of early morning views are recognizably stirring ambitions. And the bald truth is that if you intend to accomplish anything without urgency it is often easier to do so when the majority is in gear and operating.

In the end, if nothing else, I see the adage as a reminder of the value of natural repetition (combined admittedly with some Presbyterian motto). Though there are those whom I have known and respect who are as repeatedly “night owls” and late morning risers, I view their transgression as singular and one which may as likely reflect personal inadequacy or internal conflict. But this doesn’t alter what I accept to be a fruitful admonition. Plus there’s the biological congruence, eating regular meals morning, noon and night, and the latter not too late before retiring. All of which expresses not only harmony but compatability and conformity.  It’s generally about remaining in concert with nature. There’s a reason we don’t see birds at night.

There are of course exceptions, there always are.  One is an exception I have adopted for strictly utilitarian purposes; and that is the need to work late.  In the early days of my law practice it was not uncommon for me to work late into the night and sometimes into the following early morning hours.  By the time I had arrayed the papers, surveys and documents throughout the chairs and floor of my office in order to conduct a detailed title search of real property, I wasn’t about to abandon the scheme until I had concluded every detail of the investigation. Otherwise I was at risk of losing the balance and thread. It was also a concession to the agenda of what I knew already awaited me the following day (for which by the way I also arose as usual at 7:00 am even though begrudgingly). The one thing I learned early in my career was that patience succumbed to aspiration. Otherwise I acknowledge the guru apothegm is compelling and preferable.

Apart from these credentials, the adage is nonetheless predominantly a fiction.  Let’s face it, those who seek to accomplish something invariably have a way to do so without being ruled by a clock or the sun or moon or stars. There is nothing inherently objective about the hour of the day. Apparently Howard Hughes overcame the traditional restrictions of a productive day by insisting that important meetings of his managers and directors were held in the middle of the night when it was ordinarily assured no one was otherwise engaged or employed. This hardly qualifies as an impediment to productivity; indeed au contraire. This may have been the equally legitimate provocation for late night performance by others, likewise to the point of promoting tranquillity for unobstructed application.

Bakers must naturally get up very early to begin their day if they plan to serve fresh donuts. And whoever is bound to perform the midnight watch (usually midnight to 4:00 am, a variation of the proverbial “dog watch”) must stay up late until relieved by the unseeable ship’s bell (“eight bells and all’s well” measured in consecutive half-hours from midnight). But these mandatory differences arise from employment and do not therefore violate the either the scope or poetry of the generality.

A dog watch is a work shift, also known as a “watch”, in a maritime watch system that is half the length of a standard watch period. This is typically formed by splitting a single four-hour watch period between 16:00 and 20:00 (4 pm and 8 pm) to form two two-hour dog watches, with the “first” dog watch from 16:00 to 18:00 (4 pm to 6 pm) and the “second” or “last” dog watch from 18:00 to 20:00 (6 pm to 8 pm).

The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word ‘dogwatch’ is a direct translation from either German or Dutch of a similar term. It originally referred to the night-watch on ships — that is, the time when (on land) all but the dogs were asleep.The name is also said to be derived from Sirius, the “Dog Star”, on the claim that Sirius was the first star that can be seen at night.

Adherence to the axiom succeeds to fuel other narratives such as those surrounding bowing or prayer to the morning sunrise; or, similarly performing for the evening moon. This mystical activity doesn’t make it a myth to get up or lay down early but it certainly enhances the cosmetic appeal. While enterprise in the Arctic or Antarctica competes with the adage on all scores, on balance I prefer the ritual model which combines predominantly with sunshine.  For me the gold is the sunshine and I hate to lose it.