‘Evening Song’ by Willa Cather is a short five stanza poem that was originally published in Cather’s collection, April Twilight in 1903. The lines follow a very simple rhyme scheme of AABB AAA CCC DDD EEBB. A reader should take note of the similarities between the first and fifth stanzas, and the general repetition of rhyme. It is uncomplicated and benefits Cather’s desire to speak on the simplicity and importance of love. The rhythm of the text also benefits from a general use of repetition. For example, the doubling of the line “Save only Love” in the first stanza and “And none but Love” in the fifth.
Another prominent technique, especially in the second stanza is alliteration. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, the words “deep” and “dark” in the second stanza.
Cather also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. It’s at its most poignant in the fifth stanza with the use and reuse of “And none but” three times in a row.
Summary of Evening Song
The speaker begins the poem by addressing her lover. She asks this person if they know of anything worth more than love is. It is obvious the speaker believes there is nothing more important and by posing the question is allowing herself the opportunity to go through why this is the case.
She elaborates in the next stanzas, comparing the simplicity of love and its poignancy, to the blinding, immense, unknowable expanse that is the world and the universe it is a part of. For example, she draws attention to the depth and darkness of the earth and the sea, as well as the distances between humankind and the stars. There is no reason, she concludes, to worry about anything else other than present earthly love.
She brings the poem back to herself by expanding on her own relationship to the intended listener. The speaker knows how important love is because her heart is intimately connected to her lover’s. It “tells” its love to the other.
The poem is quoted in full below. To read the poem in full without analysis, you can do so at American Literature.
Analysis of Evening Song
Dear love, what thing of all things that be
Is ever worth one thought from you or me,
Save only Love,
Save only Love?
In the first lines of ‘Evening Song’ Cather makes it clear that her speaker is talking to their lover. She addresses this person as “love,” and proceeds to ask them a question. It is an important one, but it isn’t complicated. She asks, rhetorically, if there is anything in the world, aside from “Love” that is worth their thoughts. It is obvious that the speaker thinks the answer is no, but she is asking the question in order to prove a point and initiate a conversation about the breadth of the world and humankind’s temporary place within it.
The use of repetition at the end of this stanza is not the only time Cather utilizes the technique. In this instance, as well as at the end of the poem, she is seeking to emphasize the main theme of the poem: that love is the most important thing in the world.
The days so short, the nights so quick to flee,
The world so wide, so deep and dark the sea,
So dark the sea;
The next three lines explain to the reader, and profess to the listener, why love is so important. The speaker turns to the wider world, stating that it is so difficult to understand even though one’s days seem (at one point) endless. Humanity’s place on earth and in the universe is complicated and their time is fleeting.
Cather utilizes personification in order to make her point as clearly and poignantly as possible. The “nights” are given the agency to “flee”. Cather also makes use of alliteration in the use and reuse of the letters at beginning of words. For example, “World” and “wide”.
Through these three short lines Cather is simply emphasizing how impossible it is for one to know the world because it is “wide” and “deep and dark”.
So far the sun and every listless star,
Beyond their light — Ah! dear, who knows how far,
Who knows how far?
In third stanza of ‘Evening Song’ the speaker picks up where she left off, adding to the descriptions the statement that the sun is very far away. Too far to deserve one’s attention. She adds on to this statement that it is impossible for anyone to really know how far away the stars are, or where the light originates. By addressing this, she is encouraging the reader and her intended listener to come to the same conclusion she has. That there is nothing worth spending one’s time on aside from love.
One thing of all dim things I know is true,
The heart within me knows, and tells it you,
And tells it you.
Although there are many things the speaker does not know, or has a “dim” awareness of, there is one she is very sure of. Her “heart within” her knows of its fondness for the listener. She is very certain that her passionate feelings for this person are true. They are at such a deep, base level there is no space for doubt.
Plus, she also knows that her heart is able to communicate straight to the listener’s, sealing their bond.
So blind is life, so lond at last is sleep,
And none but Love to bid us laugh or weep,
And none but Love,
And none but Love.
The fifth stanza of ‘Evening Song’ is very similar to the first. There is the same kind of repetition as in the first, reemphasizing the importance of love. She makes the same argument that life is so complicated that one is blinded in the face of it. In the end, she concludes that “Love” is the only thing true and meaningful. It can make “us laugh or weep” and never vanishes.