Friday, February 17, 2017

I'll see you in dorveille

There's a word from medieval French I want to revive and give a home in English. The word is dorveille, which literally means "sleep-wake". It refers to the liminal state between sleep and awake. When I lead residential retreats in France, we often ask at the breakfast table, not "Did you have a good sleep?" or "Did you dream?" but "As-tu dorveillé bien?" Dorveille was recognized in earlier times as a singularly fertile place for poetic creation and for true visions. It was familiar to the troubadour and the medieval knight "sleeping on his horse" as he rode long distances, sometimes wearied by battle. The great fourteenth-century poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut spoke of dorveille in his Dit de la fontaine amoureuse (Story of the Amorous Fountain) [1361], which he also called the Book of Morpheus:
Il n’a pas longtemps que j’estoie En un lit ou pas ne dormoie Einsois faisoit la dorveille Com cils qui dort et encore veille
Not long ago I was in a bed where I did not sleep I was making dorveille like those who sleep and are yet awake
The French medievalist Michel Stanesco describes dorveille as "a sort of second state where the protagonist, half sleeping, moves in an inherently ambiguous universe, between the near and the far, the strange and the ordinary, the mysterious and the familiar."[1] My friend the French dream teacher and scholar of medieval poetry and music, Sophie Bordier, gives the following account: "La dorveille is a word of ancient French that first appears in the 13th century, It defines a phase of semi-vigilance that is highly propitious to creativity, prayer and visions. It is an expanded state of consciousness that connects us with the source of oneiric and poetic imagination. "Dorveille, or dormeveille, can occur as we approach or leave sleep, but also in the interval between two sleep cycles that characterized the nights of our medieval ancestors. The slept in two distinct phases: an initial period of deep sleep ("sleep of the dead") and a second period of lighter sleep, rich in images, apparitions and premonitions. When the sense (virtutes animales) are dormant, the soul can more easily slip free from the body, according the the medical theories of that era." This liminal state opens for each of us every night, though we generally flit through it without noticing. It is great practice for growing consciousness to set yourself the intention of lingering in this twilight state. As images rise and fall, you can choose to follow one that has special attraction, and so find yourself embarked, effortlessly, on an adventure in lucid dreaming. In his poem Le joli buisson de jonece (1373), Froissart describes being transported into a marvelous space “round as an apple” from a state of dorveille. This began when he went to bed early on a dreary winter evening and felt himself touched by fire. As he drifted towards sleep, thoughts and memories rose and became visions. Then Venus – he says– carried him to that apple-round space. The colors were blue streaked with white but they changed with the winds. He can’t tell the size of the space he is in but he is always at the center. Inner guides are easily accessible in this state. Creative connections are made that escape the ordinary mind. So: let's agree to spend more time in dorveille. And why not borrow the word, absent an equally good one in English? We imported déjà vu, so we can manage this too.
[1] Michel Stanesco, Jeux d'errance du chevalier médiéval: Aspects ludiques de la fonction guerrière dans la littérature du Moyen Age flamboyant (Leyden: E.J.Brill, 1988) 149.

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