Earlier this month a friend and I were visiting — quietly — in the library, by the second floor window that overlooks Marktplatz. Although it was only November 7, city workers were assembling the German Christmas pyramid and hanging holiday wreaths. Tonight is the lighting of the large tree, and I’ll be in the choir, singing carols. By sunset the square will be filled with twinkling lights and twinkling cellphone cameras.
Come, night. We’re ready for you.
Come, Night from Romeo and Juliet
Come, night, come, Romeo, come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back.
come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night.
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
— William Shakespeare
When these nine lines first appeared at Every Day Poems, I could not stop reading them. It was not long after my mother’s death, and they just made sense to me. Eventually I included the poem in The Joy of Poetry. Here’s what I wrote:
My favorite lines are ‘Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night.’ It’s a graphic image but a lovely one. What if the stars were the faces of our long-gone loved ones? Then I would want it to be night all the time, to see Mom sparkle-ate. (I know that’s not a word, but I wrote it in my poetry journal early one morning under the stars.)”
I rise early enough to still see the stars sparkelating while I walk my dogs. Now that Marktplatz is lit, we’ll head there more often. I love a dark, empty road, but I also love how, as we enter December, “even stoplights blink a bright red and green.”
While I memorized this poem, watching the trees relinquish their green, I found the last six lines quite easy and the first three quite hard. I think it was because in the third line — “Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back” — both the words new and snow seem to want emphasis. Part of Shakespeare’s genius was the ability to mess with form in order to show his actors how to read a line.
New snow, a landscape of possibility. I can’t help but remember the scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy first steps through the wardrobe and into Narnia:
Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood in night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.”
Lucy had no idea what awaited her. Neither did Juliet. Neither do we. Even with our apps, we can’t say for sure what the weather will be or what the day will hold. Will the coming night be peaceful? Will sirens awaken us before dawn? Whatever comes, let it come — gently and lovingly, with black brows, on raven wings.
Did you memorize “Come, Night” this month? Join our By Heart community and share your audio or video using the hashtags #ByHeart and #MemoriesWithFriends and tagging us @tspoetry. We also welcome photos of your handwritten copy of the poem.
By Heart for December
Lest you think you don’t have time to memorize a poem in December, might I suggest that you don’t have time not to. This one’s got it all: desolation, hope, and the caroling of a thrush.
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Browse more By Heart
“Megan Willome’s The Joy of Poetry is not a long book, but it took me longer to read than I expected, because I kept stopping to savor poems and passages, to make note of books mentioned, and to compare Willome’s journey into poetry to my own. The book is many things. An unpretentious, funny, and poignant memoir. A defense of poetry, a response to literature that has touched her life, and a manual on how to write poetry. It’s also the story of a daughter who loses her mother to cancer. The author links these things into a narrative much like that of a novel. I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro
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