Sunday, December 18, 2011

`The Friendly Fat of Days'

The plane took off from Houston at 7 p.m. (CST) Friday when the sky was already a light-absorbing blue-gray, and for five hours we unsuccessfully chased the sun and landed in unambiguous night in Seattle just before 10 p.m. (PST). On Wednesday the sun will rise here at 7:55 a.m. and set at 4:20 p.m. Later that night, at 9:30, when the axial tilt of the North Pole is furthest from the sun (23° 26'), we will, without feeling a thing, pass the winter solstice, and so begin the longest night of the year.

On both Wednesday and Thursday we will know eight hours, twenty-five minutes and 17 seconds of day – that is, sunlight, the skim-milk sort that reaches us west of the Cascades. On Friday, the cycle resumes and we’ll enjoy an additional six seconds of day. Calendars and clocks come down to fine calibrations of angularity, and without effort or knowledge our lives conform to planetary motions, until one day we leave the grand cycle behind. Among the sonnets in John Updike’s Americana and Other Poems (2001) is “December Sun”:

“December sun is often in your eyes,
springing a foliage of lashy rays
and irritating dazzle, to replace
the foliage now stripped from all the trees.
The planet rolls and tilts beneath our feet;
the tilt obscurely works to clip the day
a minute shorter; coldness infiltrates
the web of sticky seconds and we freeze.

“The year! We’re chained to it as to a wheel
that breaks us, but so slowly we don’t feel
a thing except at sunset, or sunrise,
when shallow angles form a kind of knife
that slices through the friendly fat of days
and bares the clockwork guts that make us die.”

[Go here to read all of John Donne's "A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day, cited by Helen Pinkerton in her comment.]

1 comment:

Helen Pinkerton said...

And then there is Donne's "A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day, Being the Shortest Day":

Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The worlds whole sap is sunke:
The generall balme th'hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunke,
Dead and enterr'd; yet all these seeme to laugh,
Compar'd with mee, who am their Epitaph.

etc. etc.