I was up at four in the morning the other day, and along with the murky thoughts that seem to accompany that hour, I thought of this gem of a poem by Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska. With her characteristic wit, Szymborska captures the angst of this hour and leaves us wondering about a thing or two. See what you think.
The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
The hour of thirty-year-olds.
The hour swept clean for roosters’ crowing.
The hour when the earth takes back its warm embrace.
The hour of cool drafts from extinguished stars.
The hour of do-we-vanish-too-without-a-trace.
Rock bottom of all the other hours.
No one feels fine at four a.m.
If ants feel fine at four a.m.,
we’re happy for the ants. And let five a.m. come
if we’ve got to go on living.
You can read an alternative translation of the poem here.
I hadn’t read this poem for some time, so when I googled it recently, I was excited to discover that “Four A.M.” has become a bit of a rock star. There’s an NPR segment, multiple blog entries, and several videos about this poem that weren’t there the last time I looked. I also learned that storyteller and poet John Rives has given two TED talks about four in the morning and curated the Museum of Four in the Morning— a collection of seemingly endless pop cultural references to this hour.
If you have a few minutes, check out Rives’s TED talk about the coincidences surrounding four in the morning. It’s a beautifully told love story with Szymborska’s poem at the center.
Do you have a favorite hour of the day, or one that you particularly dislike?
“Four A.M.” by Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected, 1998. Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, Copyrighted material used for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Photo: IMDb.com, Judy Dench, Four in the Morning (1965)