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Early to rise

Notwithstanding Benjamin Franklin's famous maxim, there is much that might be said on behalf of the late-sleepers of this world. Their somnolent musings may well sweeten the disposition and leave them through their waking hours with a relaxed and tolerant view of things. Ladies descending sleepy-eyed upon a stage where others have long been active, garbed in flowing robes and with the hair still slightly in disarray, have an undeniable charm. Babes that have overslept are a mercy to harassed parents.

The subject has been summed up roundly by a wit of my acquaintance. Those that got up early to chastise the spirit by jogging or other exercise are impossible, he says. ''They are arrogant all morning, and exhausted all afternoon.''

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If this be true, I plead guilty. For I do confess that I love to get up early , not to jog, but to invite the soul by sunrise wanderings and meditations in the dawn. The air is cool, the pine boughs dew-laden, and a delightful silence hangs over all. I get a head start on the day, so that when others begin to appear at the unseemly hours they choose to keep, I have performed half the chores allotted me. If I occasionally seem a bit pleased with myself - I fear my vacationing sons would say that if I appear incorrigibly self-righteous - I beg forgiveness. The experience of being first upon the waiting scene has been a heady one; the joy is slightly intoxicating.

As its more or less daily companion I must say of the sunrise, however, that it is not quite so fine an exhibition as late-sleepers might deduce. Much has been said of it, in prose and verse; and there has been much exaggeration upon the point. The beholder naturally vaunts his superiority, and to hear him one might suppose that each morning the sun arises in a burst of golden splendor, its beams leaping across skies of azure or crimson tint.

Actually it comes in a rather mundane way. It is a light extending itself slowly across the eastern horizon, touching almost imperceptibly, one by one, the familiar objects of the daytime universe. It is a subtle illumination. It is a gray and gradual blessing and only rarely a triumphant alleluia.

The most striking thing about the sunrise is that it occurs at all. The dark has come to seem so permanent that one can scarcely conceive of its being dissipated. It lies there heavy as a rock, solid as a temple of black. One begins to forget what the daylight world is like, as when waiting for a familiar face to emerge from the crowd at an airport or railway station one may have trouble in bringing its precise features to mind. Will you know this friend? Will one be at home in this world that is soon going to perform the almost unimaginable act of revealing itself in all its fullness and detail?

Chesterton remarks in one of his essays that one should greet the sunrise not as the scientist observing an inevitable and recurrent phenomenon but as a child who claps his hands and cries out wonderingly, ''Do it again!,'' so strange and marvelous does this daily revelation in fact appear to those hardy enough to observe it.

The bright colors, the gorgeous displays, belong not to the sun's rise, but to its setting. I am told it is the dusts and humors of the day, collected in the evening air, which cause the late brilliance of the western sky.

A person who has lived long and known the world in all its variety, the good and the bad, the hopeful and the disappointing, may possess in age a kind of many-hued disposition, a character lit by the strangeness and incongruities of his experience. So it seems to be with nature. The cleansed and innocent airs of dawn give out relatively little in the way of color. For that, one must wait for a sun that has looked down upon man in the long hours of his daytime strivings; one must await an atmosphere charged with the particles of his toilings and his prayers.

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On this island where I summer there is a mountain, so high and so far to the east in its location, that the first rays to fall upon American earth are said to fall each clear morning upon its summit. Here we all go once or twice a season to see the sun come up. It can be an uncommonly genial mood.

But such an excursion, delightful though it may be, is not to be compared with a regular early rising. Health and wealth may come of the habit, as the wily old sage declared; but even those do not surpass the sensation of being wise - which, justifiably or not, I garner daily.

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