Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poem of the Week 12/18/2006: Another Sonnet to Black Itself

Another Sonnet to Black Itself

Thou Black, wherein all colors are compos'd,
And unto which they all at last return,
Thou color of the sun where it doth burn,
And shadow, where it cools, in thee is clos'd,
Whatever nature can, or hath dispos'd
In any other hue: from thee do rise
Those tempers and complexions, which discols'd,
As parts fo thee, do work as mysteries,
Of that thy hidden power; when thou dost reign
The characters of fate shine in the skies,
And tell us what the heavens do ordain,
But when earth's common light shines to our eyes,
Thou so retir'st thy self, that thy disdain
All revelation unto man denies.

Edward Herbert 1620

I choose this poem this week because it is close to the shortest day of the year, and so the blackest day. He opens the poem writing about the mystery of black: how it contains all colors, yet conceals them when they are together. Black is the beginning and end of color, to Herbert. It is also the end of matter, for he refers to the color of charring when something as firey as a sun burns something. He further associates black and the sun with his discussion of the black of shadows; black is both the power of the sun and teh absence of it, the light and the dark, Black is all things (colors), and it is the destruction of things.

As Herbert points out, black contains much mystery, a fact I felt more acutely recently when the school's power went out. It was so strange to walk at night without light, and yet it is only within the last hundred years or so that our nights are so lit. Maybe less.

But anyway, with that taken, the second half of the poem becomes more potent. He writes that black allows us to see the stars, which foretell the future. In the daytime, the stars are hidden, and so we can't see the future. We know very little during the daytime, when light is everywhere. So now that there is always light (and few stars), we know less. Hm.

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