The curious little phrase was on my mind at 3:30 when I woke: “Tempering the Sublime.”
Perhaps the remnant of a dream, it danced in and out of my consciousness, then stubbornly stuck there.
I got up, stretched, and got a drink of water, hoping to return to sleep, but still, the phrase resonated. Nothing is coincidence, so I wondered what it wanted.
The only connection to the words I could bring to mind was “Tempering the Manic with the Sublime,” an old John Abercrombie album, but it had no significance for me; I didn’t remember the music.
I got up again and tripped on the foot of the wooden dictionary stand, made wobbly over years supporting Webster’s New World Dictionary, Deluxe Edition, weighing almost seven pounds. It’s my favorite book, the one I never finish, but from which I have been reading all my life.
A dictionary enthralls me. I love to run my hands across the thin pages, the words on each, gathered together not for their similarity of meaning but by their consequence of letters — a curious, seemingly random solidarity.
To be in the company of all the words in my language is endlessly fascinating. I rarely consult the meaning or spelling of a single word; I give attention to all its neighbors.
I turned on the light. There were four definitions for “temper” as a verb, two for “sublime” as a noun; both words served as other parts of speech as well. I settled on “An agent added to something to alter or modify it (tempering)” and, “the ultimate example; perfection” (sublime). Now I was fully awake.
I made coffee, poured myself two mugs, and carried one in each hand up to the deck. The moon was full, and I anticipated sharing with it, the quiet night. Sublime.