Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Nightmare Song

When You're Lying Awake With A Dismal Headache
(Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song from Iolanthe)

Love unrequited, robs me of my rest;
Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers,
Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers!

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in, without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire--the bed-clothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counter-pane goes, and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles--you feel like mixed pickles--so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot and you’re cross, and you tumble and toss ’til there’s nothing ’twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bed-clothes all creep to the ground in a heap and you pick ’em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eye-balls and head ever aching,
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you’d very much better be waking;
For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich--
Which is something between a large bathing machine and a very small second class carriage--

And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat) to a party of friends and relations,
They’re a ravenous horde--and they all come on board at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
And bound on that journey you find your attorney (who started this morning from Devon);
He’s a bit undersiz’d and you don’t feel surpris’d when he tells you he’s only eleven.
Well you’re driving like mad with this singular lad (by the by the ship’s now a four wheeler),
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
But this you can’t stand so you throw up your hand, and you find you’re as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks) crossing Sal’sbury Plain on a bicycle:
And he and the crew are on bicycles too--which they’ve somehow or other invested in--

And he’s telling the tars all the particulars of a company he’s interested in--
It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices, all good from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers as though they were all vege
You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots with a boot tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree--

From the green grocer tree you get grapes and green pea, cauliflower, pine-apple and cranberries,
While the pastry cook plant cherry brandy will grant, apple puffs, and three corners, and Banburys--

The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing--
You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor, and you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins, and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep, and you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue, and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense that you haven’t been sleeping in clover;
But the darkness has pass’d, and it’s daylight at last, and the night has been long--ditto, ditto my song--and thank goodness they’re both of them over!

W. S. Gilbert 1882

Insomnia. I have it. And to be honest with you, I'm taking it as a bit of an insult from my brain. Ever since I pulled a few years of working night-shift, I've been proud of my ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. I'm the mistress of cat-naps--a quick ten-minute doze before driving in to work keeps me from falling asleep and driving off into the ditch, a nice half-an-hour's snooze after I get home from work keeps me going the rest of the day, I even take quick fifteen-minute naps in the evening so I can stay up a little later! I've always been much more of an asleep-as-soon-as-my-head-hits-the-pillow sort than the lay-awake-for-hours type. And now I'm tossing and turning and wide awake at four in the morning on my day off.

I know what's causing it, but I don't want to do anything about it. My brain is not happy with something I'm doing, but I'm doing it anyway. It's not illegal, it's not immoral, it concerns only me. But my brain sees trouble down the road, an upheaval of long-established patterns, and it has worked all my life to head off these sorts of troubles. It has persuaded me before to give in, to avoid messy introspections, to play things safe, to convince myself that I really didn't want things after all. It has encouraged me to believe that I was helpless and content at the same time, and lulled me into inaction. If the price for a good night's sleep is to also be asleep as I wake, well, that's not a price I'm interested in paying this time.


Wade said...

i agree.

insomnia is bad.

sleepliving is worse.

anglophile said...

Sleepliving. Yes, that's a good name for it, Wade. I'm glad to be awake.

Anonymous said...

I like the poem, the guy sounds like he's in love with rejected effections and it haunt's his sleep and sleep taunts him and the rest sounds very Alice in Wonderland(ish). I hope your insomnia doesn't get that bad anglo...Take care.
Sleepliving is an awsome