Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at ever turn.
‘Pity Me Not’, Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Click here to hear her poem, Pity Me Not, recited by Tom O’Bedlam.)
Twilight is possibly my favourite time of day. It is a quieting time. Sitting watching the sky’s shifts at twilight with a camera or sketchbook in hand gives me real joy. Yet paradoxically, part of my deep joy is coming to realise the depth of my sadness within, becoming aware of it, and then listening to it, as if it is being writ large across the natural world.
What I hadn’t properly considered until now, is how different experiences of transitioning between day and night might also affect how emotional transitions are expressed.
I never knew there was a science of Twilight which describes the process in three stages: civil twilight, nautical twilight and astronomical twilight. Each transitions to the next depending on the angle of the sun below the horizon. Of course, the point at which these stages are reached also depend on one’s position on the curve of the earth. At the North and South poles twilight can last for a fortnight at the beginning and end of the long winter blackout.
I wonder if there is a relationship between the way we experience twilight, dictated by physical location, and the way we experience depression, loss, pain and grief? Does the way my eye comprehends the bluegrey blending at twilight affect how I understand and approach darkness, whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual darkness? What effect might the murklight have on my spirit, especially on this shortest of days at the Winter Equinox?
The Japanese term Yūgen expresses something of this:
Yūgen as a concept refers to ‘mystery and depth’. Yū means ‘dimness, shadow filled, and gen means ‘darkness’. It comes from a Chinese term, you xuan, which means something too deep either to comprehend or even to see. In Japan the concept became (in Browe’s words) ‘the ideal of an artistic effect both mysterious and ineffable, of a subtle, complex tone achieved by emphasising the unspoken connotation of words and the implications of a poetic situation … It is also the term for a style of poetry … it was also early linked with sabi by Fujiwara no Shunzei to describe beauty accompanied by sadness. The interpretation was approved by Kamo-no-Chōmei (1155-1216) who wrote .. that for him yūgen was to be found ‘on an autumn evening when there is no color in the sky nor any sound, yet although we cannot give any definite reason for it, we are somehow moved to tears.’
(Donald Ritchie, cited in Peter Davidson, The Last of the Light (124))
The colours I see are affected by memory and expectation as much as perception via the changing cones in my eyes. Cameras also ‘see’ very differently to the human eye, since photographic film cannot make the same adjustments to the changing dark as the human eye. Even digital cameras struggle with the constantly changing light levels at Twilight, so that compensating with filters and meters can only do so much. For me, this just adds to the tantalising nature of the experience. If I am looking at the sky to render it as an image, whether that be in ink, paint, film or pixel, finding the encapsulating moment of the experience is impossible: at best my picture of Presence can only be partial. Yet the making of the image is also part of the kinetic, emotional, and spiritual experience of Presence; what emerges is as much a surprise as what the sky reveals as it transitions.
To borrow a phrase from Richard Rohr, what I know is that when I sit attending to the Twilight outside and inside of me, I ‘experience the Real’.
experience the Real
This is the mystical hour,
day fading; night rising.
Sweet peace between day and night,
ask what you will
and it shall be done.
This is the hour of grace.
(‘The Twilight Hour’, Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses (149))
There is no need to fear the day ending or to mourn the light dying. There is no need to be anxious about the darkness falling or indeed about losing the light. If I can set aside the conditioning these metaphors instil in me, instead, I might consciously receive the colours of the day’s ending and the night’s beginning. I might know all shades are precious for they are painted by the Great Artist. Then I might really begin to see darkly. And by seeingdarkly I might come to encounter the Artist who, in these shifting colours, at this time, offers me a vision of the whole of me: whole.
I’ll let you in on a secret
about how one should pray
the sunset prayer.
It’s a juicy bit of praying,
like strolling on grass,
nobody’s chasing you,
nobody hurries you.
You walk toward your Creator
with gifts in pure, empty hands.
The words are golden,
their meaning is transparent,
it’s as though you’re saying them for the first time.
If you don’t catch on
that you should feel a little elevated,
then you’re not praying the sunset prayer.
The tune is sheer simplicity,
you’re just lending a helping hand
to the sinking day.
It’s a heavy responsibility.
You take a created day
and you slip it
into the archive of life,
where all our lived-out days
are lying together.
The day is departing with a quiet kiss.
It lies open at your feet
while you stand saying the blessings.
You can’t create anything yourself,
but you can lead the day to its end
and see clearly the smile
of its going down.
See how whole it is,
not diminished for a second,
how you age with the days
that keep dawning,
how you bring your lived-out day
as a gift to eternity.
‘Praying the Sunset Prayer’
transitions (Blue Christmas 2022). (iPhone image)
One thought on “whole: Blue Christmas 2022”
A beautiful piece……. I too like twilight….. and the preceding dusk as the sun sets, birds settle down and vie for their preferred branch and stillness envelopes the great outdoors……. I had never contemplated the shift within ourselves, the fading lightness, the heaviness of another closing door, the inevitable step into darkness and what this means for those with mental fragility. ♥️