Sunday, January 11, 2009

External Structure(Sonnet) 1: Mother Night

"Mother Night"

-James Weldon Johnson

Eternities before the first-born day,

Or ere the first sun fledged his wings of flame,

Calm Night, the everlasting and the same,

A brooding mother over chaos lay.

And whirling suns shall blaze and then decay,

Shall run their fiery courses and then claim

The haven of the darkness whence they came;

Back to Nirvanic peace shall grope their way.  


So when my feeble sun of life burns out,

And sounded is the hour for my long sleep,

I shall, full weary of the feverish light,

Welcome the darkness without fear or doubt,

And heavy-lidded, I shall softly creep

Into the quiet bosom of the Night.


This poem is a variation of the Italian sonnet form. It is split into two stanzas, an octet and a sestet. While in the octet the author describes the general existence of light and the stars and their course of living, in the sestet he delves into an analysis of his own “feeble sun”.

The first half or so of the octet set the scene for the rest of the poem. These lines discuss the beginning of time, before the suns and stars had shapes and forms. It talks about when there was merely light among a sea of chaos. The last half of the stanza discusses the death of these stars. It talks about how after stars have “run their fiery course”, they go into the night never to be seen again. This parallels the circle of life in how the stars, after coming out of the night, return to it with their death. In this way, the speaker shows how life passes through a structural metaphor of stars and suns. He then uses the next stanza to explain how he will face the last half of his octet.

The speaker now compares himself to the stars and suns in the sky and realizes that when it is his time to disappear into the night he will accept death as his destiny and return to whence he came. Actually, the "feverish light" that he mentions as his own life makes it seem that he will be tired and ready to go, “weary” from his long journey through the sky. The speaker is not afraid of death, but seemingly this is only in the context of having a full and satiating life.

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