(I cropped this photo, but it is otherwise straight from the camera–a little Canon OneShot that’s about 8 years old.)
I found myself thinking about the phrase “the close of day.” Te lucis ante terminum, goes a 7th-C. Latin hymn; but I am more inclined to recall Whitman’s “When I Heard at the Close of the Day,” which says:
“When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me which follow’d…”
No, what brought happiness to our much-plaudited bard was not abstract fame and accolade (claims he) but another day, a day “when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn…”
…a day of anticipation for the visit of his dear friend and lover. A day of happy anticipation, followed by a night of joy. The close of the day closes this sweet and loving poem (written to a man, who “lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,/In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams”).
The Latin hymn invokes Jesus to watch over us as the day closes, and (to me) connotes death as a closing that may occur in the night, just as the bugle call “Taps” has come to signify a death as well as a close of the day’s activities. A childhood bedtime prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
That prayer frightened me a little when I was a child. Like so many people, I feared the night. Yet “close of the day” in Whitman’s poem is a gentle, loving, anticipatory thing, something we need not fear. When I see a sunset like the one above, my sense is more of awe than fear. The day is shutting down, perhaps, but there is no foreboding in the vivid sky, and the moon may be rising or setting and the stars begin to glimmer. Fear is something we name, something we develop in ourselves.
Perhaps we can also develop, in ourselves, a loving anticipation. For the close of day, in particular.