“Four A.M.”

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.

Four A.M.

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.

Empty hour.
Hollow. Vain.
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.

-Wislawa Szymborska

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?

Sources:

“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)

8 thoughts on ““Four A.M.”

  1. There is something about 4:00 am. I am reminded of a friend who hated waking at 4:00 because he could shake off his battle-related experience.
    Thanks for finding the poem and the TedTalk. I got chills when I got to the end of watching it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Patti! I loved the John Rives TED talk and all the connections. Astonishing how many references. I am a 4am person in recent decades and have surrendered to awakening and receiving the liminal reality – after fighting it – now I love early morning arising. Now I arise, drink coffee, write and pray.
    Lucia

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    1. Welcome, Lucia. Lovely to hear your voice on this forum! Seems there are lots of advantages to waking early. My sister is like you – up before the birds. I think of her as living in a different time zone and know better than to call her after 7PM!

      Like

  3. Loved the TED Talk. What a beautiful memory. And I can relate, to hoping I can fall back to sleep, when it is four o’clock in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great poem — and fantastic TED talk. 4 a.m. is such a weird hour of the day. I hated when I woke up at that hour before I retired — a little too early to get up for the day, but also too late to go back to sleep since my wake up time was 5 a.m. So, I would often start thinking about the day ahead, look at my phone and at the meetings scheduled, check e-mails and, obnoxiously, reply to e-mails and send out new ones so that when those lucky people who were still sleeping woke up at a normal hour their in box would nice and full…..(it was always amusing when I would get a response right away to those 4 am notes. At least I was not the only one up!). Nowadays when I wake up at 4, I just turn around, fluff my pillow, and go back to sleep until my favorite hour: 7:30. Early enough that it’s still pretty peaceful and quiet inside and outside, but not so early that I feel like a martyr being up. Even when I was working, 7:30 was my favorite hour. That’s when I arrived at the office with my cup of coffee and could crank out a lot of work before the back to back meeting marathon started at 9. The most productive 1.5 hours of the day! I wonder if that would have changed with COVID 19, with so many working from home now or working alternative schedules. I am glad I don’t know the answer to that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you haven’t grown tired of retirement yet! I laughed when reading about you sending emails at 4 am.

      Like

  5. I love 4 AM. I get a lot accomplished at this time. I also like 7 PM because that’s bed time due to getting up at 4:00 in the morning!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. loved it. thought about calling Patti at 4 in the morning. Makes me laugh to think of the family reaction

    Liked by 1 person

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