"The rhythm of these words gives me hope that moments of such precise beauty will always exist." (S.K. Grout on Aubade)
S.K. Grout is a contributor to Half Mystic Journal’s seventh issue, aubade. She grew up in Auckland, New Zealand and has lived in Frankfurt, Germany and Norwich, England. She currently lives in London. Her work also appears in Landfall, The Interpreter’s House, L’Éphémère Review and elsewhere. Wanderlust, eco-living, social justice, queer love stories and writing remain priorities of her life. These topics fill most of her Twittering at @indeskidge.
We asked three of our Issue VII contributors to share with us their personal definitions of aubade: how it is formed, where it has been, what it could be. Here is S.K. Grout’s vision of the dawn-dizzy dance—the first chords of warmth—the sun forgiving everything it touches…
Vuong: Their shadows: two wicks.
Donne: Thy beams, so reverend and strong
About the aubade, Taifa Faizullah said in an interview for the Kenyon Review: “For me, the definiteness of that moment makes the aubade a great poem for improvisation: you can always begin with your awareness that this moment will end and then riff—through description or association or whatever—until the sun is up to call it quits. It’s like a timed freewrite.”
Like most bittersweet and exquisite moments in my life, I became fully aware of the word aubade from poetry—more specifically, after I read Ocean Vuong’s poem “Aubade with Burning City”. Before that, if memory serves, I had stumbled across it from reading bloggers’ curated lists of the most beautiful English words. And aubade is a beautiful word. When you hear it you can almost imagine the desire it invokes, can picture the lover standing underneath the window of their beloved, strumming an instrument or humming an indecipherable melody, and waiting wistfully, with the sun’s arrival, for a sign of affection.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, my teenage self giving words to my experiences of wanting someone from a distance in John Donne’s poem “The Sun Rising” is also an aubade. To this day, I still marvel that I could interpret the emotion in that piece, read into existence my own longing: find a way of traversing my pining for a girl in my class, for a boy in my friendship group, even if I didn’t have the vocabulary on my own for what I was feeling. That wishing and observing might be useful ways to live my emotions because I do not experience sexual attraction in the way that appears “normal” on television and in film. The rhythm of these words has stayed with me throughout my life, has given me hope that moments of such precise beauty will always exist.
Vuong: On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard / for the first time.
Donne: Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Aubades take place in liminal space; they are ephemeral and, like the perfect melody or the exquisite lyric, they are robust in the moment. Once the moment passes, however, they are acted upon only by memory; they become elusive and open to interpretation. I am forever seeking the clarity of the perfect moment inside the aubade—where I am alone in the world, but my world is so filled with another person to the point of distraction from anything else. I find a similar creative force existing in music: as with the open spaces of possibility in aubade poems, I can linger inside my feelings, listen to Radiohead’s “High and Dry”, Mamamoo’s “Morning”, Frank Ocean’s “songs for women” or Spiritualized’s “I Think I’m in Love”. Aubade is a state of wishing for an end to my longing, but also seeing the beginnings of beginning, a pathway towards hope and change and growth.
And aubades in poetic form have absolutely evolved since Donne. It feels right that such an aspirational form can be equated with turning both inward and outward on our experiences of longing: that inside this liminal moment, a poet traverses what can and cannot be said. The crowning of light heralding the new day provides a space in poetry, in song that, as readers and listeners, we not only want for the return of love, but for that of justice, of reparation, of restoration.
Vuong: The city so white it is ready for ink.
Donne: This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
S.K. Grout’s poem “To Jump / Merrily”, along with twenty other pieces by contributors and three columns by the Half Mystic team, are compiled in Half Mystic Journal’s Issue VII: Aubade, a stunning collection of contemporary art, lyrics, and writing dedicated to the celebration of music in all its forms. It is available for preorder now.