(Poem #884) The Day is Done
The day is done, and the darkness Falls from the wings of Night, As a feather is wafted downward From an eagle in his flight. I see the lights of the village Gleam through the rain and the mist, And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me That my soul cannot resist: A feeling of sadness and longing, That is not akin to pain, And resembles sorrow only As the mist resembles the rain. Come, read to me some poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. Not from the grand old masters, Not from the bards sublime, Whose distant footsteps echo Through the corridors of Time, For, like strains of martial music, Their mighty thoughts suggest Life's endless toil and endeavor; And tonight I long for rest. Read from some humbler poet, Whose songs gushed from his heart, As showers from the clouds of summer, Or tears from the eyelids start; Who, through long days of labor, And nights devoid of ease, Still heard in his soul the music Of wonderful melodies. Such songs have a power to quiet The restless pulse of care, And comes like the benediction That follows after prayer. Then read from the treasured volume The poem of thy choice, And lend to the rhyme of the poet The beauty of thy voice. And the night shall be filled with music, And the cares, that infest the day, Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs, And as silently steal away.
Longfellow's another poet I have found myself reading increasingly of late - there is something both soothing and satisfyingly right about his choice of words and images. The soothing aspect stems, I think, mainly from his easy acceptance of timeworn themes, his refusal to be startling for the mere sake of being startling. This is not, however, to suggest that his poetry is cliched - like all the great poets, Longfellow can take an old idea, shape and polish it until it glows softly and then fit it seamlessly into the larger pattern of a poem. Today's poem is an excellent illustration. The first verse is about as timeworn an image as one can ask for, but handled with a quiet assurance that saves it from triteness. The rest of the poem develops as quietly, laying down its images of rest and peace, interspersed with some beautiful images like A feeling of sadness and longing, That is not akin to pain, And resembles sorrow only As the mist resembles the rain. and the whole, despite the occasional faltering step, *works* - the verses build up in a hypnotic rhythm that does indeed 'have a power to quiet the restless pulse of care'. I will admit, though, that poems like this one require a certain suspension of criticism on the part of the reader. Longfellow's use of both language and imagery is deliberate rather than subtle, and to balk at the obviousness and refuse to be led is to lose the point of the poem. Rather, the reader has to be willing to immerse himself in the poem, and ignore the occasional hiccup for the sake of the overall effect. Afterthought: The last verse of the poem qualifies it for the Bertie Wooster theme we ran a while back - see poem #720 for the theme summary. -martin