‘The Vast Hour’ by Genevieve Taggard is a fourteen-line sonnet that is a variant of a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. Although the poem does not conform to the Petrarchan rhyme scheme, it does follow a similar pattern. The lines rhyme in a pattern of, abbacaacdefdef. Also, just as can be done with Italian sonnets, this poem can be separated into one octave, or set of eight lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. These can be further broken down to allow for a clearer analysis.
Additionally, his piece has been written in iambic pentameter, one of the most common metrical forms used in sonnet writing. This means that each line of the poem is made up of five metrical feet, or iambs. Each containing one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how all the elements of day, such as the “sweetness of the white” warmeth, ascend into the sky “when the dark / Comes down.” Along with these “essences” go the “tune of the meadow-lark” and the smell of grass at noon. These are sights, sounds and smells that belong strictly to the day, they have no place at night.
When night comes, it is as if it is forcing the sun to take a reprieve. The sun must “ease” itself so it has the strength to shine again the next day.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker describes how it is the clear and calm of night which allows her to focus her thoughts. The absence of sound from the world gives her the ability to tap into her own experience and break it down into its parts. In the final lines she describes the oneness with night she has come to relish.
Analysis of The Vast Hour
All essences of sweetness from the white
Warm day go up in vapor, when the dark
Comes down. Ascends the tune of meadow-lark,
Ascends the noon-time smell of grass, when night
The first half of ‘The Vast Hour’, constructed within eight lines, or an octave, has been separated into two sets of four lines, or quatrains. The first quatrain describes the beginning process of the sun setting. The day has previously been “white,” “warm,” and “sweet,” but now all of those feelings and emotions are going “up in vapor.” They appear to be evaporating from the world as the day changes into night.
It is important here to note that the speaker sees these elements of day as being its “essence.” These are the things which make the day time worth experiencing. At first, the speaker’s tone makes it seem as if the night is going to be cast negatively. As if it is an experience that one would rather not have, that is not the case though.
The tune of the “meadow-lark” also ascends. Following close behind are the “noon-time smell of grass.” These are all aspects of day which are impossible to experience at night. They “ascend” making room for the elements of night. This process of evaporation does eventually lead to ‘the dark / Com[ing] down.”
Takes sunlight from the world, and gives it ease.
Mysterious wings have brushed the air; and light
Float all the ghosts of sense and sound and sight;
The silent hive is echoing the bees.
In the second half of the octave, the speaker describes how it is as if “night” takes the “sunlight from the world.” The sunlight is being taken away against its will. The speaker is personifying these elements in an attempt to show the different roles they play. The sun would continue to shine endlessly if not for the night taking it from the sky. It seems to be the night’s responsibility to “give it ease.”
The sun is not being punished or permanently removed. It is only being taken to the side so that it might get some rest and be able to return to the sky the next day.
The next lines speak of the “Mysterious” elements of the night which take over the world during this time period. Everything is silent, and ones senses become confused with the lack of “sound and sight.” The speaker compares the silence of the “bees” to the “silent hive.” No part of the world is stirring, not the people or the city.
So stir my thoughts at this slow, solemn time.
Now only is there certainty for me
When all the day’s distilled and understood.
Now light meets darkness: now my tendrils climb
In this vast hour, up the living tree,
Where gloom foregathers, and the stern winds brood.
When the final sestet begins it is clear there has been a “turn” or “volta.” The second half will provide an answer to, or elaborate more clearly on, what has occurred in the first eight lines.
In the case of this poem, the speaker begins to refer to herself in the first person. She describes this time as being “solemn.” It is the period during which she is able to consider her thoughts clearly. It is as if once the sun goes down, this person is able to more easily analyze the world; along with everything that has happened to her since the sun rose that morning. Her thoughts are “distilled” down to their simplest form and “understood.” Night is not something to be feared, but something to be taken advantage of.
In the last three lines of the poem, the speaker describes how she is able to become part of the night as it overtakes the landscape. She relishes in the “gloom” that “foregathers” on the trees and metaphorically “climb[s]” up into a tree where the “stern winds brood.” It is likely that this is the place she is able to think the most clearly. She has brought herself as close to the darkness of the sky as possible.