Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Night and Day

New Death Moon

New Death Moon 2008: Time as a Circle

New Death Moon 2009: The Soldier and Death

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Night and Day, a Parable from Nature

In old times, long long ago, when Night and Day were young and foolish, and had not discovered how necessary they were to each other's happiness and well-being, they chased each other round the world in a state of angry disdain. Old northern tales say that they each rode across the sky in a chariot pulled by a beautiful horse, Night’s with a frosty mane, while that of Day had a shiny one. Moreover, foam fell from Frosty-mane's bit as he went along, which dropped on the earth as dew, and Shiny-mane's mane was so radiant that it scattered light through the air at every step. 

And thus they drove on, bringing darkness and light over the earth in turn—each pursuing and pursued; each thinking that he alone was doing good, and that therefore the other, so totally unlike himself in all respects, must be doing harm, and ought to be got rid of altogether if possible. Of the two, one grumbled and the other scolded the more, and it is easy to guess which did which.

Night was gloomy by nature, especially when clouds hid the moon and stars. She was really broken-hearted at the exhaustion produced all over the world by the labours and pleasures which were carried on under the light of day. She would receive the earth back as if it was a sick child and she a nurse, who had a right to be angry with what had been done to it.

Day, on the contrary, was amazingly cheerful, particularly when the sun shone and never troubled his head about what was to happen when his fun was over. On the contrary, he thought his fun ought to last for ever because it was pleasant and was quite vexed when it was put to a stop.

"Cruel Night," he exclaimed, "what a life you lead me! What trouble I have to take to keep your mischief in check. Look at the mists and shadows I must drive on one side before I can make the world bright with my beautiful light! And no sooner have I done so than I feel your cold breath trying to come up to me behind! But you shall never overtake me if I can help it!."

"I doing mischief which you have to keep in check!" groaned Night, quite confused by the accusation. "I, whose whole time is spent in trying to repair the mischief other people do: your mischief, in fact, you wasteful consumer of life and power! Every twelve hours I get back from you a half worn-out world, and this I am expected to restore and make as good as new again, but how is it possible? Some wear and tear I can renew and refresh, but some, alas! I cannot; and thus creeps in destruction and death."

"Hear her," cried Day, in contempt, "taunting me with the damage I do, and the death and destruction I cause! I the life-giver, at whose touch the whole world awakes which else might lie asleep for ever. She, the grim likeness of the death she talks about, and bringing death's twin sister in her bosom."

"You are Day the destroyer. I Night, the restorer," persisted Night, evading the argument.

"I am Day the life-giver, you Night the desolator," replied Day, bitterly.

"I am Night the restorer, you Day the destroyer," repeated Night.

"You are to me what death is to life," shouted Day.

"Then death is a restorer as I am," exclaimed Night.

And so they went on, like all other ignorant and obstinate arguers; each full of his own one idea, and taking no heed of what the other might say. How could the truth be got at by such means? Of course it could not so they persisted in their rudeness. And there were certain seasons particularly when they became more impertinent to each other than ever.

For instance, whenever it was summer, Day's horse, Shiny-mane, got so strong and frisky that Night had much ado to keep her place at all, so closely was she pressed in the chase. Indeed, sometimes there was so little of her to be seen that people might have doubted whether she had passed by at all, had it not been for the dew Frosty-mane scattered, and which those saw who got up early enough in the morning.

Oh, the boasting of Day at these times! And really he believed what he said. He really thought it would be the greatest possible blessing if he were to go on for ever, and there were to be no Night. Perhaps he had the excuse of having heard a whisper of some old tradition to that effect: but the principal cause of the mistake was, that he thought too much about himself, and too little about his neighbour.

Soon, though, she had her revenge; for when it was summer on one side the globe it was winter on the other; and then it was her turn to boast, as it was in winter that Frosty-mane came out in all his glory. During that season Night kept up a sort of murmuring triumph, "Good, good, very good: this is something like rest at last; now worn-out Nature is recruiting herself to some purpose. Now weary muscles may gather strength instead of giving it out. Now all the secret forces of Nature are at work, and exhaustion is being repaired on every side. Now trees and plants may keep their gases for themselves, and waste and consumption cease, for the wear and tear of life have stopped. Ah, if it could but cease for ever! Then the world would be renewed, indeed, and giant races of man and beast and plant arise!"

And so things went on till a check came, and it came in a very odd way. It is not always very easy to tell the exact causes of change even in one's own mind, much less in other people's, so I do not pretend to trace the whole process out in this case.

But Night and Day did grow wiser as time went on, for there is no squabbling or boasting going on between them now. One may conclude that after the first flush of feeling cooled down, they were better able to look round them and judge dispassionately of each other. And, lo and behold! they discovered at last that there were two portions of the globe, the poles, where each had their own way for six whole months at a time, and that yet the brilliant consequences which they had insisted would occur never took place.

On the contrary, those were the dreariest and most desolate portions of the whole globe,—barren wastes of ice and rock, where both animal and vegetable life were at the lowest possible ebb. In vain did Shiny-mane drive round and round that frozen horizon with a light that was never interrupted: where was the promised Paradise which was to follow?—the foliage, the flowers, the fruits, the precious crops which should have adorned this unchecked reign of Day, where were they? Day, the life-giver, looked down upon a kingdom without life!

And it was the same with Night, when her turn came round. In vain did Frosty-mane distil his dews. They were useful—at least Night thought so—everywhere else; but here, what did they avail? Here was the unbroken rest which was to recruit and refresh all Nature: now her secret powers might work as they pleased: but where were the giant races of man and beast and plant that were to arise in consequence? Night, the restorer, ruled, but over a kingdom where there was nothing to restore!

They had made a terrible mistake, that was clear; and if they did not at first see that there must be other and more important powers at work, besides theirs, or the good old earth would not be what it is in most places, they must be excused. People cannot grow quite wise all at once, and they had made a very good beginning by learning to distrust themselves; that being always the first step towards doing justice to a neighbour.

"I called you Day the destroyer, bright and beautiful friend," murmured Night, in her softest tones; "you who bring light over my shadows, and make my good deeds known to all men. Day, the life-giver, forgive me, and return at the seasons appointed. Touch the earth with your glory from time to time, lest all things perish from its face, and it and I are forgotten together."

"But I mistook your friendly shadow for that of death," answered Day, with his sweetest smile, though tears trembled in his eyes as he thought of the injustice, causing the brightest of rainbows to span the landscape below: "and that was a thousand times worse! You, in whose silence and rest the very fountains of life are renewed. Ah, while earth remains what it is, an everlasting day—a day without night—would be destruction! Dear friend, forgive me, and ever and ever return."

"There is nothing to forgive," whispered Night, as she came round once more. "And death also may restore as I do," added she tenderly; for the harvest moon was shining upon long fields of golden corn, some waving still, some gathered into sheaves; and she felt particularly hopeful about everything.

"Anyhow we are friends—loving, helpful friends," sang Day.

"Friends—comforting and abiding friends," echoed Night, in return, as the weary world sank on her bosom; eyes closing, limbs relaxing, and flowers folding, as if the angel of rest had come down from heaven.

And friends they were and remain, though long ages have passed away since the time the old northern tales tell of; and though now the wise men will not allow that Night and Day drive round the world in cars with horses to them. Perhaps it is really true that the earth is a dark ball, hanging in the openness of space moving slowly round the shining sun, but spinning like a top all the time itself, so that first one side and then the other faces the brightness. But no matter which way the changes come. Night and Day are the work of the Lord; and, like all the other "works of the Lord" have a voice, and say many things worth listening to, especially now that they are no longer young and foolish. Listen only, and you will hear. And which speaks you can surely guess, for they praise each other now and not themselves. One sings—

"Dear Night, whom once I dreaded as the dark end of life and enjoyment. Dear Night, whom now I know as the forerunner of life renewed. Welcome, blessed restorer; take our worn-out child to your bosom. All her day-labourers grow weary, for a portion of life goes from them, in the toil of limb and of muscle. Restore what thou canst and mayst, let the rest remain in hope; for the mercy thou bringest now, foreshadows a greater in store. Oh, type of the mighty change which must one day pass upon all; of the deep mysterious rest in which all things shall be renewed; of the needful, hopeful death which quickens unto life! Dear Night, my sister and friend, the twilight shades approach, and I see in thankful peace your darker shadows beyond."

And the other answers in turn.

"Dark and secret my mission; men call me Night the gloomy; but I hold in my bosom the germs of a glory full of hope; hiddenly working within, till thou, the life-giver, returnest, to break through the mists and shadows, and touch my nurslings with light. So, at the first creation, at the touch of the first young dawn, lo! gleams of life universal were lit all over the world, and Nature, amazed, awoke in songs of thanksgiving and joy.”

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I love this story. I love the imagry, I love the language and I love the moral. Night and Day, like ourselves so often, think that if everything were one way, our way, life would be perfect. That isn't so, and The Goddess knows it. In her infinite wisdom she has made Day AND Night, Winter AND Spring. In what ways do you question the wisdom of the divine, or of nature, or of the universe? Have you ever had a nasty reminder that Her wisdom is more wise than yours? Or have you ever had a pleasant reminder? What are you doing to prepare for the "deep mysterious rest in which all things shall be renewed; of the needful, hopeful death which quickens unto life!" that Winter brings just as Night does?

The story Night and Day is written by Mrs. Alfred Gatty and is found in her book, Parables from Nature, which can be read at Gateway to the Classics. I have edited the story for length and in doing so slightly changed it in a way Mrs. Gatty may or may not approve of. Please do read the original here.

The photo of Mt. Hood and the moon is by the amazingly talented photographer Lucas Mandar. Check out his photos on Flickr here. Thanks!

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