Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The shape of night

Two A. M. I wake, and stumble to the kitchen. A cold drink of water, my nightly ritual. Then, step onto the terrace.

Praise horizons. Most of the year I live in a 19th-century house in a compact New England village. From my stoop the view is straight up only, through a screen of amber light. Here, 360. Stars burn on the sea like the mast lamps of distant ships. On those evenings when the just-past full moon rises, the eastern horizon glows with a lunar dawn.

I lay flat out on a lounge chair and look straight up. Saturn burns brightgly at the zenith, holding court in Cancer with the Beehive Cluster. I try to imagine the shape of night, that long conical witch's hat of darkness pointing outward, away from the Sun, into the universe of galaxies. The witch's hat fits snugly on the Earth's brow, out there over the horizon in West Africa where they are watching sunrise.

I think of these wonderful lines the Earth speaks in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound:
I spin beneath my pyramid of night
  Which points into the heavens, dreaming delight,
Murmuring victorious joy in my enchanted sleep;
  As a youth lulled in love-dreams faintly sighing,
  Under the shadow of his beauty lying,
Which round his rest a watch of light and warmth doth keep.