First published for Royal Chundu’s blog.
“Darkness — like silence, like solitude — belongs to that class of blessings increasingly endangered in modern life yet vitally necessary to the human spirit,” Maria Popova writes in her piece, In Praise of Darkness.
As a civilisation, we have, largely, voluntarily, become blind to the beauty of darkness, nightblind, so to speak; constantly, anxiously, trying to replace nightfall with extended day. When last did you sit outdoors and take in the entire night and only the night, giving it your full dedication and seeing in it the poetic beauty it intrinsically holds?
Night is the stuff of songs, the muse of musicians… Van Morrison’s Wild Night. Van Morrison’s Here Comes The Night. Ray Charles’ Night Time Is The Right Time. Jimi Hendrix’s Long Hot Summer Night. Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night.
What is night good for? What is it not good for? To Ray Charles, night time is the right time to be with the one you love. The Greco-Egyptian writer, Claudius Ptolemy called it cosmic ambrosia.
American writer and naturalist, Henry Beston, in his 1928 classic, “The Outermost House”, called it: “the true other half of the day’s tremendous wheel; no lights without meaning stab or trouble it; it is beauty, it is fulfillment, it is rest. Thin clouds float in these heavens, islands of obscurity in a splendor of space and stars: the Milky Way bridges earth and ocean…”
“Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than night,” Beston wrote, naming what we lose out on as a result: “that vast serenity, the mystery of infinite space, the austerity of the stars”, “the character or the poetry of night, who have never even seen night. Yet to live thus, to know only artificial night, is as absurd and evil as to know only artificial day.”
On the Zambezi, in its wildness, its remoteness, night falls and it falls truly, wholly, naturally, and the stars show themselves without fear of being outshone. It is an escape from that which is inescapable in the cities that many of us inhabit – the effluence of artificial light in every corner, at all times – petrol stations, 24 hour cafes, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, security lights, street lamps, televisions still buzzing after midnight for the sleepless, bedroom lamps left on to keep the ghosts out… It is a doorway to that which our ancestors were once privy to daily – day time’s “other half”, the light of the moon and lanterns to guide the way and the complete inky stillness above to accompany you on the deck… the nocturnal animals sounding their hello, along with the wink of the stars.