Literature special: Night and Darkness

Darkness is such a strange thing... and yet so familiar.

Akrita Reyar

Darkness is such a strange thing. And yet so familiar because we are acquainted with it every day of our lives, for nearly half the day.

Stranger because it’s so enveloping, so complete. That we are unable to fathom its depths, skin its opaqueness or tear it down to discern what is beyond. It is so impregnable that our mind’s thoughts and vision cannot penetrate it.

That perhaps lends to it a mystery. A mesmerizing quality that adds to its beauty.

George Edgar Montgomery describes her loveliness in ‘At Night’:

“The Sun is sinking over hill and sea,

Its red light fires a spectral line of shore;

Night droops upon our half-world mistily

With sombre glory and ghost-haunted lore;

The stars show dim and pallid in the sky,

Vague, wraith-white glimmerings of volcanic spheres,

And a slim crescent of the moon appears

Like some young herald in the hours that die.”

After the bend of the clock, we return to Night for succour. For bedtime stories. To collect our thoughts or cloak our anxieties. To subconsciously link again with the dark comfort we felt in the womb. It is as if we have sunk again into those planes where the weary soul will find solitude and solace. To rest. To rekindle. Before we reawake and plunge again into the cacophony of the world.

In the ‘Hymn to the Night’, from Voices of the Night, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes a eulogy:

“From the cool cisterns of the midnight air

My spirit drank repose;

The fountain of perpetual peace flows there,--

From those deep cisterns flows.

O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear

What man has borne before!

Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care,

And they complain no more.

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!

Descend with broad-winged flight,

The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,

The best-beloved Night!”
Percy Bysshe Shelley also seeks the ‘Night’ in the following stanza:

When I arose and saw the dawn,

I sigh`d for thee;

When light rode high, and the dew was gone,

And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,

And the weary Day turn`d to his rest,

Lingering like an unloved guest,

I sigh`d for thee.

When night spreads her tresses and the moon peeps out from behind the dark locks, there are many an Indian folklore about the ache of separation of lovers. But twilight also lights hope in hearts of those long torn-apart.

In ‘Meeting at Night’ Robert Browning writes of a clandestine rendezvous:

“The gray sea and the long black land;

And the yellow half-moon large and low

And the startled little waves that leap

In fiery ringlets from their sleep,

As I gain the cove with pushing prow,

And quench its speed i` the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;

Three fields to cross till a farm appears;

A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch

And blue spurt of a lighted match,

And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,

Than the two hearts beating each to each!”

But for those on a solitary journey, a walk through the darkness can be so unsettling, so uncertain. A numbing of our sense and sensibilities. There is that conscious vigour of step to hurry back to the destinations well familiar. An uneasy suspicion of a lurking danger or fate unknown.

So unwelcome like the darkness of thoughts or moods when we are under the heavy boot of fate or full of despair. A vexation at people or our helplessness. Our sudden confrontation with morbid secrets or characters. Our inability to come to terms with disillusionment. Our intense engagement with this material life. Is it not darkness itself?

A life spent without purpose or without ever knowing the reason is life of darkness. We wander through the alleys in stupor in only a state of semiconscious living, lost in a maze wasting worthy years through a part, half or whole of a lifetime. Sometimes several lifetimes. Yet it is this very darkness that persists to remain an enigmatic stranger.

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