Rock Island, IL
Don Henley sang of “days when darkness falls early” and of how at the end of them “people rush home to the ones they love.”
During these short dark Ingmar Bergman days of Daylight Swindle Time, when sunlight is rarer than a virgin in a Delta Chi house, a man already predisposed to gloom needn’t defend his references, so I won’t. In this tartarus any old sage will do. “You better take a fool’s advice / And take care of your own,” saith Henley, and he needs no imprimatur from this melancholic country-churchyard sojourner casting one last longing lingering look behind.
If you find somebody to love in this world,
You better hang on tooth and nail.
The wolf is always at the door.
The sentiment is akin to something Art Garfunkel crooned: “evening falls so hard.”
(Not many years later the witch of November would come stealin’, leaving wives and sons and daughters to muse perhaps on nothing but the dead and dying back in their little towns.)
The verb “falls” occurs in both lyrics, and it’s the right word; the investment’s in the right part of speech. Oh, there is other loss implied in Henley’s little ditty. No doubt about that. But I think it’s the weight of darkness, more than its early arrival, that matters to both song writers. It’s the burden of grief that really gets to us. The “darkness visible” of which Milton wrote (and, much later, Styron) oppresses, certainly. But the darkness palpable, heft-able, is another matter. It depresses. It presses us down. Depression seems, and is, such an abstract clinical term. But to anyone who has felt as if a bowling ball hangs inside his rib cage, to anyone who feels the wring-world weight of grief bearing down on his shoulders, it’s no abstract noun. It’s the physical condition that it is—and, what is worse, the mental condition as well.
To illustrate: there’s a medieval text the title of which we translate “The Remorse of Conscience.” Its actual title is something like “The Again-Bite of In-Wit.” Our translation doesn’t quite do justice to both the physical and the psychological twinge of guilt that the medieval title captures, but that’s because our nouns are now abstract, clinical. We have to do some etymological work if we’re serious about doubling our pain.
Etymology: that anti-Juicy Fruit.
No wonder Garfunkel enjoined: “Sail on, Silver Girl.” Because as the already-invoked Mr. Lightfoot once asked,
Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
It is hard to hang on sometimes. Others know it better than I do—and they hang on better than anyone can expect them to.
Nothing but the dead and dying back in their little towns.
Frost said—and well he said it—that “dawn goes down to day.” He captured the right motion through space, the downward vertical movement of which loss is the material, formal, and efficient cause, but I don’t think he was after the plunging effect you get from the verb “fall,” especially this time of year, when darkness falls early, when evening falls so hard. At any rate he did not use the word “fall.” He no doubt meant descent, diminution, loss, and he certainly invoked The Fall, but in that fine poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” he seemed—for once, perhaps—not to be interested in the state of the soul kneaded down and worked almost to naught by the knuckles of that approving God of whom Dickinson wrote.
I had long since declared winter my favorite season ere I noticed its shorter days. It wasn’t until I was married and heard my wife say something about how the long winter nights get her down that I even noticed how brief its days are. Winter gets you down? Really? Why? She answered incredulously: the days are so short!
I’d never noticed.
But, having had this pointed out to me, I do now. And yet I love them, brief though they be. The solstice nears. There is something to set my eyes on—like those fresh tasks of which Frost wrote in “The Wood Pile.” And on the first day of spring the goddess excellently bright will mark another complete journey around the sun. Michigan seems like a young man’s dreams. True enough, Gordon. But Oh! back pockets, keep on rollin’. Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shinin’ on me.
Plus morning at the brown brink eastward springs.