Daily Archives: August 8, 2019

Our share of night to bear

The Evening Star, 19th century, M.F. Jacomin
Background Image: The Evening Star, 19th century, M.F. Jacomin

The poem is broken up into two main themes: stanza one is about portions, stanza two is about navigation. Each stanza is broken up into two further themes: stanza one being about what we can have & what we put in, stanza two being about what guides us & where we get lost – with the final line being found again. In other words, there is a star or stars (NOT in the sense of astrology but of ocean navigation) guiding our way in life but we can also get lost in the mist (amidst) of life.

I’m not sure Emily’s “thesis” is clear in this poem, but there are some fascinating word choices which might lead us (navigation) into the “mist” of her obscurity. The word that jumps out at me is the word “mist”, which she writes as “a mist” which can also be read as ‘amidst’ as in being among something but also as a state of things falling apart (as in something was amidst). In Milton’s Paradise Lost V: 435, after Eve has had her dream in which she sees an angel eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, God sends Raphael to remind Adam and Eve of what dangers lay in wait for them and that they must be wary of temptation. When Raphael shows up to their home, Milton writes:

So down they sat,
And to their viands fell, nor seemingly
The angel, nor in mist, the common gloss
Of theologians, but with keen dispatch
Of real hunger, and concoctive heat
To transubstantiate.

What Milton is saying is that the angel was not “immaterial” but that he had a corporal body with which he had a “real hunger” thus not only did his body transubstantiate from a mist to a solid, but he could also (at least partially) digest the food (turn food in heat / energy).

OK, so what does this have to do with Emily’s poem? Well my point is that when things began to go amidst in Eden, God sent a star (Raphael) to Adam in Eve to guide and instruct them less they be taken by surprise by Lucifer. God requires that Adam and Eve have free will in all their decisions so he can’t keep them ignorant of Lucifer’s intentions. Raphael also explains that humanity possess the ability to reason, unlike the animals, but that they should always choose to serve God (hence the free will argument in that they should have free will to serve, which is sort of a paradox if you think about it).

Thus what Emily is probably getting at in her poem is that we have to live our own lives and we each have a “share” of darkness (“night”) to “bear” (navigate) as well as clear skies (“morning”) to enjoy. We also have the ability to fill the empty spaces of the world with “bliss” as well as with our “scorning”. In other words, we have a lot of free will to do as we please and we can choose either good (“morning”, and “bliss”) or we can choose evil (“night” and “scorning”). And because we have the capacity to do both, we can transubstantiate our essence into either activity: good or evil.

Emily is talking about how best to navigate life and she is playing the role of Raphael from Milton in that she is describing the multiple ways life can go. She even says that “Some lose their way” which means that it is easy to get lost and confused, especially when we can’t see “a star” but if we stay true then we will eventually find the “Day”. In fact there is an allusion to the north star cleverly hidden in the poem with her use of the word “bear” and then her mention of the word “star” twice. Someone who knows the night sky would recognize this as a reference to Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (Ursa meaning bear), and that if you follow the stars on Ursa Major they point to the north star which is located in Ursa Minor. Thus a sound navigator can always find true north (the true way) to morning (the proper path).