‘Evening’ by Friedrich Schiller is a four stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The poet has chosen not to unify this piece through the use of a rhyme scheme, but there are a number of instances in which the lines relate to one another through imagery and word choice. A reader should note the fact that the third line of the first three stanzas ends with the word “horses.” This is a link from the beginning to, almost, the end of the poem.
There are also a few moments in which contrast is used to reveal the power of the gods and the elements they control. Once such instance is in the second stanza in which the poet uses the words “cooling” and “flaming.” The chill and heat present in this stanza also relate the actions of the gods back to the physical, relatable world of humankind.
Additionally, upon viewing the text of the poem one might notice the fact that the first two lines of each stanza are close to the same length, as well as the second set of lines in each stanza. While there are metrical differences between the phrases they are similar enough to warrant comparison.
Summary of Evening
The poem begins with the speaker asking that Apollo come down from his high spot in the sky and take away the brightness of the day. He, and the rest of humankind, desire the “freshening dew” and a reprieve from the light and heat. The second stanza is used to try to entrance Apollo down towards the ocean. The speaker asks if he cannot see “Tethys” who is waiting by the water.
His efforts pay off in the third stanza in which Apollo descends and enters into Tethys’ embrace. The final lines describe the importance of evening and the “balmy night.” It is for lovers, human and divine, to meet and rest.
Analysis of Evening
Oh! thou bright-beaming god, the plains are thirsting,
Thirsting for freshening dew, and man is pining;
Wearily move on thy horses–
Let, then, thy chariot descend!
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by addressing the “bright-beaming god.” As is clear by the choice to not capitalize the “G” is god, the speaker is not directing his words to the Christian “God” but to another. This entity is the one who is in command of the “plains” and the rising and setting of the sun. It is not until the final line of the poem that the speaker uses an actual name to refer to the god of these elements. But, if one has prior knowledge of Greek mythology, one might assume (correctly) that the speaker is directing his words to Apollo, or “Phoebus” the god of the sun, prophecy, and archery. He is also sometimes known by the name Helios.
It is to Apollo that the speaker addresses these lines. He is pleading with the god that he “move on” his horses and carry the sun across the sky as is his duty. The speaker is tired of living in the bright heat of the day and wishes that evening would come as quickly as possible. It is not only for himself that he speaks, but for all of “man[kind].” The speaker says that all men are “pining” for a change in the day and feeling wary that the hours do not seem to be passing.
It is the speaker’s goal that Apollo allow his “chariot [to] descend” from the sky and cast the world into darkness. In the following stanzas, the speaker will outline what it is about “evening” which is so alluring to him.
Seest thou her who, from ocean’s crystal billows,
Lovingly nods and smiles?–Thy heart must know her!
Joyously speed on thy horses,–
Tethys, the goddess, ’tis nods!
In the second stanza, the speaker uses his knowledge about the gods and their associations with one another to urge Apollo onward. In these lines, he references a woman. Her name. “Tethys,” is in the final line of this stanza. She is known as the goddess of the freshwater which nourishes the earth.
The speaker asks Apollo if he can see “her, who from ocean’s crystal billows?” He is hoping, through emphasizing the beauty and alluring nature of Tethys that Apollo will be urged onward to the horizon and sea. It is in the direction of the ocean the speaker wants him to travel and he hopes Apollo will do so “Joyously” and “speed[ily].”
In the last lines of this section, he tells Apollo that Tethys is nodding to him, as if she wants him to descend to the sea.
Swiftly from out his flaming chariot leaping,
Into her arms he springs,–the reins takes Cupid,–
Quietly stand the horses,
Drinking the cooling flood.
In the third stanza, it appears as if the speaker’s plea to Apollo to travel to the arms of Tethys worked. The god is now described as jumping “Swiftly from” his “flaming chariot.” He has quickened his pace in the way the speaker hoped he would and is now alongside the sea. The god jumps into Tethys’ arms and Cupid, the god of love, desire, and affection, “the reins takes.”
It is Cupid who is now in charge of the situation. Apollo has yielded his power in favor of love, allowing Cupid the upper hand. Nearby to where these gods are interacting with one another stand the horses. They are cooling themselves with a drink of water, resting until they are needed again.
Now from the heavens with gentle step descending,
Balmy night appears, by sweet love followed;
Mortals, rest ye, and love ye,–
Phoebus, the loving one, rests!
In the final stanza, the speaker gets what he was asking for in the first two lines— dark descends on the landscape. It is described as being a gift from heaven that steps “gentl[y]” down to earth. It is a gift that humankind receives at the end of each day.
The evening brings along with it a “Balmy night” in which “sweet love” is present. The waning hours of the day inspire love in those who do not normally feel it, and increases love between those who are already close. It touches all “Mortals” and then brings to them “rest.”
It is interesting to note the way in which Schiller chose to illustrate evening. This time of day, and the dark which accompanies it, is not something to be feared, but relished. No matter who one is, what they do, or what powers they may have over humankind, it is a time to put that aside and rest.