To The Night | Summary, Explanation, Analysis and Questions
Category : POETRY LESSONS
To The Night Summary
To The Night is a remarkable lyric by Shelley. It is full of the passion and the yearning so typical of much of Shelley’s poetry. The poem expresses Shelley’ intense desire for Night, which he has personified. The poem is a wonderful illustration of Shelley’s power of making his own myths. Not only has night been personified and made to live before us, but Day, Sleep, and Death are also treated in the same manner. Furthermore, relationships have been established between Night, Sleep and Death.
This poem expresses the writer’s intense love of Night and contains an invitation to her to come soon. The poem is a sort of address of welcome to Night. The poet asks Night to spread herself rapidly over the sky. The whole day, Night has been weaving dreams of joy and fear in her cave. These dreams are to be seen by human beings in their sleep. Those who see joyous dreams love Night, while those who see fearful dreams regard Night as terrible. The poet wants Night to come without delay. Let Night establish her supremacy over the world. Let her wrap herself in a gray cloak decorated with stars, and let her wipe out the light of the day with her darkness. Let her sleepy influence be felt over city, sea, and land. The poet then gives expression to his passionate delight in Night. When he arose and saw the dawn, he felt unhappy at the departure of Night. At all hours of the day he felt miserable because of the absence for Night and sighed for her coming. Death and Sleep offered to come to the poet but he rejected their offers because he did not feel attracted by them. Let Sleep and Death come to him when there is no more Night for him. But at present he is fascinated only by Night and appeals to her to come soon :
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon !
‘Hymn to the Spirit of Nature’s is a delightful lyric taken from Shelley’s poetic drama Prometheus Unbound (Act II, scene v). It is a song sung by a voice in the air and addressed to Asia who, in the play, represents Intellectual Beauty, or the Soul of the world, or as the title above indicates, the Spirit of Nature. Prometheus is the spirit of love in mankind, while Asia is the spirit of love in Nature. The union of Prometheus and Asia in Shelley’s play is the union of the spirit of love in man with the spirit of love in Nature. Their union marks the regeneration or redemption of the world of man and the world of Nature, and signifies the end of evil in the universe.
This song in praise of Asia is sung by an unknown voice in the air. Perhaps it is the voice of Prometheus who loves Asia. In any case, it is a glowing tribute to Asia. Asia is the Life (that is, the essence of life, or the source of life in Nature). Her lips brighten with their love, the breath passing between them. Her smiles, before they disappear, warm up the cold air. She ought to hide her smiles in her eyes which are so deep and so labyrinthine (that is, bewildering) that whoever looks into them will faint with intoxication. Asia is the child of light (that is, made of light or brightness). Her body seems to burn through her clothes in the same way as the brightness of the morning appears through the clouds. Wherever she may be, she is surrounded by a heavenly atmosphere. It is not possible to look at Asia because her beauty is dazzling and unbearable. Her voice is sweet and soft. It is like liquid splendour, and it screens her from view so that everybody can feel her presence but none can actually see her. Asia is the Lamp of Earth (because of her brightness). Wherever she goes, she sheds light and illumines the dark shapes of earth. The souls of those whom Asia loves can walk upon the winds till they fail as Prometheus is now failing and although he is feeling confused by Asia’s overwhelming beauty and although he seems lost because of his love for her, yet he does not complain or feel any regret.
Explanatory Notes of To The Night
Swiftly walk over the western wave.. thy flight ! (Stanza I).
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.
Blind with thine hair … wearied out.
(Lines 10-11). 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.
And the wearied Day……. an unloved quest
(Lines 19-20). 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).
Thy brother Death came……. No, not thee!
(Lines 22-28). 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.
(Sleep, the filmy-eyed – Sleep is called filmy-eyed because the eyes of person whe feels sleepy look dim or filmy).
Death will come when thou art dead – Death would come to the poet in its own time.
Soon, to soon – Death would not take long in coming to the poet. (Here is an unconscious prophecy of Shelley’s premature death. It was at the age of thirty that he was drowned in the sea).
Sleep will come when thou art fled – 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.
Critical Appreciation of To The Night
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’ss 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,
In short, this poem has all the qualities of Shelley’s lyricism. The poem is remarkable also 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 something to do with this spell.
(vi) What is the main idea of the poem To Night?
A. It tells us about Shelley’s intense love of Night and is an invitation to her to come soon.
(vii) How is the Day depicted in To Night?
A. The weary Day is depicted as lingering like an unloved guest.
(viii) What does the Night do to the Day?
A. The Night blinds with her dark hair the eyes of Day and kisses till day is exhausted and retires from the scene.
(b) Answer the following questions in 500 words each:–
(i) Critically analyze the Poem To Night.
A. See Critical Appreciation.