To Night by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This is a remarkable lyric by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is full of the passion and the yearning so typical of much of Shelley’s poetry. The poem, To Night, expresses Shelley’s intense desire for Night, which he has personified. The poem is a wonderful illustration of Shelley’s power of marking 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.


To Night Analysis

Swiftly walk o’er the western wave,

Spirit of Night!

Out of the misty eastern cave,

Where, all the long and lone daylight,

Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,

Which make thee terrible and dear,—

Swift be thy flight!

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. Shelly 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 joy 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-colored 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 the eyes of Day;

Kiss her until she be wearied out,

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 a poetic fancy. What the poet means is that, with the coming of Night, Day withdraws from this world.

Then wander o’er city, and sea, and land,

Touching all with thine opiate wand—

Come, long-sought!

We are to imagine that Night carries in its hand magic staffs, which has the power of sending everyone, who is touched with it, to sleep. When Night comes, all creatures fall asleep.

When I arose and saw the dawn,

I sighed for thee;

When light rode high, and the dew was gone,

And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,

And the weary Day turned to his rest,

Lingering like an unloved guest.

I sighed for thee.

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. Here is the use of simile (Lingering like an unloved guest) is made very appropriately.

Thy brother Death came, and cried,

Wouldst thou me?

Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,

Murmured like a noontide bee,

Shall I nestle near thy side?

Wouldst thou me?—And I replied,

No, not thee!

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 also the brother of Night because Night stands for darkness, and Death takes human beings into the unknown dark region. 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 every sweetly and softly like the murmuring of a bee at noon-time. Sleep offers 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.

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, belovèd Night—

Swift be thine approaching flight,

Come soon, soon!

Death would come to the poet in its own time. It 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 29 that he was drowned in the sea). 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

In this poem Shelly 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. H expresses his love for Night in such lines as the following: “Swift be thy fight!” “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 dreams of joy and fear for human beings. 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 thy 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 a note of desire and lyrical quality, presented through this stanza. 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.

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, belovèd Night—

Swift be thine approaching flight,

Come soon, soon!

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.


Conclusion

This poem expresses the poet’s intense love of Night and contains an invitation to her to come soon. Night has, of course, been personified. The poem is a sort of address of welcome to Night.

The poet asks Night to spread herself rapidly over the sky. All 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 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 of Night. At dawn, at noon, and in the evening the poet yearned for Night and sighed for her coming. Death and Sleep offered to come to the poet but rejected their offers because he did not feel attracted by. 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!

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  • Avatar Ray ray says:

    What is the Tone,mood,diction, structure,sense,purpose of the poem To Night by Percy Bysshe Shelly

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Hi there, if you take a read of the analysis it really answers a lot of those questions. The purpose of the poem is covered, as is the type of poem (which encompasses the structure etc.)

  • Avatar Esraa ibrahim says:

    Why shelley use symbols in his poem? How does the poet deal with the night? What is the role of night in this poem? Why night is important for shelley?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Shelly uses symbolism for the same reason most poets use it, the use of figurative language and personification helps to create a powerful emotional response from the reader. In some ways it is like the poetic equivalent of “showing” instead of “telling” in fiction. Shelley deals with the night by personifying it, it takes on the characteristic’s of a human. It is hard to say why the night is important to Shelley, however it is clear he holds it in some reverence as the speaker in the poem refers to it as “beloved Night” in the final stanza.

  • Avatar Joanna says:

    Shelley died before his thirtieth birthday

    • Hello Joanna,
      Thank you for the comment. We have since updated the analysis to reflect this.
      Kind regards,
      Will

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