One of the things that will never cease to amaze me is the English language. Much of the time it’s amazement in frustration, like why “i” always has to come before “e” or there/their/there are three different ways to say there, and three versions of two/to/too. Then there’s the fact that you have to know/no about all of those pesky silent letters, whose/who’s purpose I’ve yet to fully recognize. Or the weird beginnings that try to ph/fool you because they all sound the same, but are spelled completely differently. Yet despite its/it’s idiosyncrasies, exceptions, and quirks, English as a language is, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent and beautiful languages there is.
This love pops up on occasion in moments when I see/sea or hear/here a word or a phrase that just seems to sing, whether it be because it so perfectly describes and emotion or feeling, it matches a situation exactly, or simply because someone managed to string together some random mix of letters from the 24 letter alphabet that we possess into a combination that is purely musical to look at, hear, or imagine. It’s those words that we notice that make us say to ourselves, “That is exactly what I mean to say!” that I am a sucker for, being the English lover, proud nerd, and curious individual that I am.
So here’s one such word I stumbled across the other day that reminded me of just how awesome English is:
Adjective. Pronounced Hal-see-yen. An idealized, idyllic, or peaceful time. Often, it’s referred to a period of time in history in which there was a “golden age” of peace and tranquility. It’s also the name of a kingfisher bird, who, according to legend, is powerful enough to calm the winter sea.
When I hear that word, everything seems to slow down. Maybe it’s the way it seems to take over your mouth like molasses when you say it, or that it is so unique it makes your brain start to work to process what you’re saying. But immediately, it evokes a sense of peace and tranquility which is therapeutically calming. For me right now, the image coming to mind and filling my senses is that of the feeling when you’re about to go to bed, on a perfect summer night.
Halcyon: Here’s what I see. The window is slightly open on a summer night, the white noise of crickets chirping releasing into the humid air and hanging there, trapped in the thick warmth for a moment before dissipating into the night. You’re in your bed, beneath cool, fresh sheets that glide smoothly over your freshly showered, clean skin. Next to you, the gauzy curtain hanging down from your window is flapping ever-so-slightly on the warm breeze that’s flowing in. The sky outside is a dark midnight blue, dotted by twinkling stars and backlit by a moon that is just barely visible behind foggy, wispy clouds. You are lying in that momentary split-second between being awake and being asleep, when everything feels fresh, new, and peaceful. Your brain is about to release its tension from the day, to envelop you in the welcome peace of sleep. You breathe out, and that one hesitant second passes, letting go of your thoughts and worries and liberating them to the workings of the brain sound asleep. The wrinkles on your brow smooth over, and your hands unclench the sheets they have unconsciously been grasping. In a halcyon moment, there are no doubts. Everything will be okay. You are in utmost tranquility.
If I were to put a soundtrack to this his musical word, I can’t help but sing in my head the classic song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It’s slow, slightly melancholy, and summery notes are indeed halcyonic. The world has calmed down, cooled off after a hot day, and is preparing to start over again. Everything that must be done is not a concern, if even for a few split seconds. Darkness is falling, and the veil of night is being lowered, so that the jungle and the world around us can slow down to a tranquil place of serenity. You hear, just loud enough for your ears only, the “hush, my darling, don’t fear my darling” of that song, and, finally, you slumber to the rhythmic comfort of owee-bo-wops keeping pace with the thick, dark, enveloping, and serene summer night. Until tomorrow, my friends, halcyon says. Until tomorrow.
That is halcyon. A beautiful word, a peaceful word, and one I hope evokes its meaning to you.
Synonyms: untroubled, calm, peaceful, quiet, still, tranquil.
Take a moment tonight, and right before you close your eyes for the last second of the day, feel your halcyon life suspended in the navy blue air around you. Walt Whitman couldn’t have said it better when he wrote: “Then for the teeming, quiet, happiest days of all. The brooding and blissful Halcyon days.”