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Alliterative Hypnagogia

July 24, 2009

Gawain and the Green Knight, from original manuscript, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been sleeping like a champ lately. It’s been awesome. One of the weird things tramadol does to you is mess up your sleep patterns in a major way. It basically replaces sleep with a mental state in which you are aware you are sleeping, especially if you take the stuff anywhere close to bedtime. The sensation isn’t unpleasant — it’s like your brain is floating groggily above your head and checking in on you from time to time. Better yet, you can sort of influence the “dreams” you have in this state by thinking about things you want to think about.

Several months ago I’d been reading Simon Armitage’s kick-ass verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight* right before bed. Alliterative verse has a very distinct kind of jagged, unpredictable rhythm, and if you’re reading it in concentrated bursts its uneven accent-patterns tend to pulse and throb in your brain long after you’ve put the book down.

This was especially true when I was on The Drugs, because I had all these nights during which I was half aware of waves of alliterative meter sloshing gently around my head. They were fuzzy and sounded half-mumbled and I never knew what they were actually saying, if anything at all. I just remember these warm, round consonant palpitations keeping me company through the night. Like somebody unseen was reading bedtime stories to me, quietly. It was very close to magic.

The flipside to all this happy-talk about warm-fuzzy half-dreams and soothing alliterative fugue states, on the other hand, is that tramadol basically turns you into a fucking zombie during your “waking” hours. You’re constantly sleep-deprived from the groggy half-sleep of the T, and the only thing that will really wake you up and get you going again is more T, which of course further destabilizes your sleeping patters, and on and on in a positive feedback loop that doesn’t end until you end it.

* Time for a totally immature aside. You know the whole weird bargain that Sir G. and Green K. set up, where the Knight goes hunting every day and Gawain spends the day with the Knight’s wife, and at the end of the day they have to give each other whatever “spoils” they’ve earned? Basically Knight brings home deer and boar meat and all manner of foraged goodies, while Gawain gets just a kiss from the Knight’s wife. And this works out fine for the purposes of the poem, so that at the end of the day the Knight hands over all his fresh-killed meat and Gawain gives him a smooch on the cheek in return. But what if — what if — instead of just a kiss from the wife Gawain had gotten, say, a blowjob? Follow the logic. Those end-of-day goodie-trading ceremonies would have been a lot more interesting.

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