To Night by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Swiftly walk o’er the western wave,
Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
Which make thee terrible and dear,—
Swift be thy flight!

Wrap thy form in a mantle gray,
Star-inwrought!
Blind with thine hair the eyes of Day;
Kiss her until she be wearied out,
Then wander o’er city, and sea, and land,
Touching all with thine opiate wand—
Come, long-sought!

When I arose and saw the dawn,
I sighed for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turned to his rest,
Lingering like an unloved guest.
I sighed for thee.

Thy brother Death came, and cried,
Wouldst thou me?
Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
Murmured like a noontide bee,
Shall I nestle near thy side?
Wouldst thou me?—And I replied,
No, not thee!

Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon—
Sleep will come when thou art fled;
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, belovèd Night—
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon!

Summary

The poet here makes an appeal to Night which has been personified. Night seems to the poet to be a living being,capable of acting in accordance with its own will and capable of listening to the poet. Shelley has, therefore, created a myth here. He appeals to Night to spread itself over the western sky where the sun sets. He imagines that Night spends the hours of daylight in some misty eastern cave, all alone, and that it keeps busy during that time, manufacturing or weaving dreams of joys and fear for human beings. These dreams are seen by human beings during their sleep.Sweet dreams, which human beings see, make Night dear to them; but the frightening dreams,which they see, make Night terrible to them. Thus human beings are in love with Night and yet,at the same time, they are afraid of Night. The poet is in love with Night without being afraid of it. He wants Night to come swiftly and without delay.

Wrap thy form in a mantle gray, star-inwrought. The poet calls upon Night to wrap itself in a gray coloured cloak which has stars woven in its texture. The dark sky is regarded here as the mantle of Night, and the stars that shine in the sky are supposed to be woven in the texture of that mantle. Here Day is also personified.The poet asks Night to come and spread its black hair over the eyes of Day, so that Day may no longer be able to see. Then the poet asks Night to overwhelm Day with kisses. Let Day be kissed so vehemently and repeatedly that Day feels tired of these kisses and flees from the world. This is poetic fancy. What the poet means is that, with the coming of Night, Day withdraws from this world.Touching all with thine opiate wand. We are to imagine that Night carries in its hand a magic staff which as the power of sending everyone, who is touched with it, to sleep. When Night comes, all creatures fall asleep

When Day was tired of its stay on the earth, it felt like resting. And yet Day stayed on for some time more, just as a guest might prolong his stay in a house where he is no longer welcome. (The simile is very appropriate).

The poet is interested neither in Death nor in Sleep. He looks upon Death as the brother of Night, and he calls Sleep a child of Night. Death is the brother of Night because Night stands for darkness, and Death takes human beings into the unknown dark regions. Sleep is the child of Night because it is during night that human beings are overcome by Sleep. Both Death and Sleep offer to come to him. Death is prepared to take him away from this world in case he is sick of life. Sleep, which makes the eyelids close, speaks to the poet very sweetly and softly like the murmuring of a bee at noon-time. Sleep offer to creep close to the poet and to send him into a state of temporary forgetfulness. But the poet rejects both these offers, because he is attracted only by Night.

Death would come to the poet in its own time. Death would not take long in coming to the poet. The poet does not accept the offer of Sleep,because Sleep can come to him when Night is gone. He would not like to waste his time in sleeping. He can sleep permanently after death.

Analysis

In this poem Shelley expresses his deep love of Night. Night is personified here and regarded as a living entity, conscious of its own existence and of the existence of others. Night has a strange fascination for the poet who is attracted neither by dawn nor by day. Neither sleep nor death has any charm for the poet. He wants his beloved Night. He expresses his love for Night in such lines as the following : Swift be thy flight !” “Come, long-sought!” “Come soon, soon”.

There are a number of exquisite nature-pictures in the poem. Night is imagined as living in some lonely and misty eastern cave where, throughout the day, she weaves as wearing a gray cloak studded with stars. When Night appears, she blinds with her dark hair the eyes of Day and kisses Day till Day is exhausted and retires from the scene. The idea of Day giving place to Night has been conveyed to us through a beautiful picture:

Wrap the form in a mantle gray,
Star – inwrought!
Blind with thine hair the eyes of Day;
Kiss her until she be wearied out, …..

Night is then depicted as wandering over city, sea and land, and producing a sleepy effect upon all living beings. More pictures follow in the poem. There is the picture of the sun riding high and the dew vanishing, and there is the picture of flowers and trees oppressed by the heavy weight of noon. The weary Day is depicted as lingering like an unloved guest, a most appropriate simile.

There is an atmosphere of melancholy in the poem which is also characterized by a note of longing. The poet yearns for Night. Several times in the course of the poem he says that he is sighing for Night, and several times he appeals to her to come soon. The music and melody of the poem lend a great charm to it. Here is a specimen of the poem’s music:

Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon –
Sleep will come when thou art fled;
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, beloved Night–
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon!

In short, this poem has all the qualities of Shelley’s lyricism. The poem is remarkableal so for the simplicity of its language and ideas. There is nothing abstract or obscure, either,about language or about the theme. Most of us do not have Shelley’s love for Night, and yet somehow we are made to share the writer’s sentiments in this poem, which only means that, as we read through the poem, we fall under its spell. The music of the poem has certainly some-thing to do with this spell.

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