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Saturday October 23, 2021

Night Symphonies

night time alley
The sleeping alleyways

“Tender is the night
And haply the Queen Moon is on her throne…”

– John Keats – Ode To  A Nightingale.

Night time is moon time. The hours of solitude when we are engrossed in a kind of waking slumber, that’s when fairies are supposed to descend upon the earth. Bedtime stories were a must, when we were kids. This habit has been retained in the form of reading books before hitting the bed for the night.

The one painting which comes instantly to mind when I think of the night is Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Gogh had painted it 1889 while spending his days in the asylum. Though Starry Night’s fame has nearly surpassed its creator, it is not the only painting of Gogh that depicts a night scene. In fact, he was quite enthralled by the visual mysteries of night. In a letter to brother Theo he wrote, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day….The problem of painting night scenes and effects on the spot and actually by night interests me enormously.” Between 1888 and 1890 he painted some of the greatest nocturnal paintings in history ‒ Starry Night over the Rhône, Country Road in Provence by Night and Cafe Terrace at Night.  

Starry Night by Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh painted The Starry Night in 1889

Fear of the dark

But nights are more often associated with fear of the evil powers, lurking both within and without. The fear of the unknown – an existential crisis – impinges upon us during these dark hours. As sleep takes over our senses, we tend to dream. And while dreaming, our ‘subconscious’ starts playing games with us. Sigmund Freud had tried to analyse these in his seminal work, The Interpretation of Dreams. In Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, the word ‘night’ appears twenty eight times. That’s higher than it does in any of his other plays. And it is during the nighttime that Lady Macbeth’s fear and guilt possess her soul, making her walk around her dark palace in a state of slumber. 

Nocturnal melodies

In Indian classical music, the ragas Darbari Kanada and Behag are specifically meant for the night. If one ever had had the opportunity to listen and be a part of the Dover Lane music Conference – as much a cultural event as of heritage vintage – one would have experienced singers singing these ragas, deep into the hours of the night. 

The Nocturne is a musical composition in Western Classical music that evokes the beauty and mystery of the night. The great composer Frederic Chopin wrote 21 Nocturnes that are considered to be some of the finest for short solo piano recitals. 

On a winter’s night

In winters, as opposed to summers, nights are associated with the warmth of woollens and quilts and lots and lots of hot beverages. In most Victorian novels, as well as in those by the Dame of crime fiction, Agatha Christie, there’s the mention of the habit of enjoying a cup of coffee or cocoa after dinner. Since we live in a tropical climate, tea is perhaps more suitable for us than coffee and is also a healthy addiction.

Once I had accompanied my parents on a trip to Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in North Bengal. We had checked in to the Holong Tourist Lodge. The Tourist Lodge itself is a log house, built in wood. The big windows of the rooms there overlooked deep into the jungle. It must have been midnight when I went to the washroom. As I looked out to my amazement, I saw the entire surrounding area was flooded with the light from the moon. It was a full-moon night and the trees seemed to bathe in its glory. Every time I think of my nightly experiences now, it’s the memory of that night inside the jungle, inside the washroom of the Holong Tourist Lodge that comes back to me.

night photo in black and white
I love the silent hour of the night

Night time quotes

Mahatma Gandhi had said, “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” Virginia Woolf had written in her Jacob’s Room: “Melancholy were the sounds on a winter’s night.” The Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami had said, “The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” The third of the Bronte sisters, Anne Bronte wrote: “I love the silent hour of the night,/ For blissful dreams may then arise/ Revealing to my charmed sight/ What may not bless my waking eyes.”

The horrors

It is not surprising that most horror movies have a large number of night sequences. For instance, Nightmare on Elm Street. Nights and nightmares have an uncanny nomenclatural association. But most horror movies also when the first rays of the sun from the eastern horizon drape our sleepy eyes, the dreams or nightmares of the night before, become things of the past. We welcome a new day with open arms and a happy mind.

Images courtesy: Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons

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