by William Lyon Phelps
At an uncertain hour before dawn in February 1912, as I lay asleep in my room on the top floor of a hotel in the town of Mentone, in Southern France, I was suddenly awakened by the morning star. It was shining with inquisitive splendour directly into my left eye. At that quiet moment, in the last stages of the dying night, this star seemed enormous. It hung out of the velvet sky so far that I thought it was going to fall, and I went out on the balcony of my room to see it drop. The air was windless and mild, and, instead of going back to bed, I decided to stay on the balcony and watch the unfolding drama of the dawn. For every clear dawn in this spectacular universe is a magnificent drama, rising to a superb climax.
The morning stars sang together and I heard the sons of God shouting for joy. The chief morning star, the one that had roused me from slumber, recited a splendid prologue. Then, as the night paled and the lesser stars withdrew, some of the minor characters in the play began to appear and take their respective parts. The grey background turned red, then gold. Long shafts of preliminary light shot up from the eastern horizon, and then, when the stage was all set, and the minor characters had completed their assigned roles, the curtains suddenly parted and the sun-the Daystar-the star of the play, entered with all the panoply of majesty. And as I stood there and beheld this incomparable spectacle, and gazed over the mountains, the meadows and the sea, the words of Shakespeare came into my mind
Full many a glorious morning have I
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye.
Kissing with golden face the meadows green.
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.
It is a pity that more people do not see the sunrise. Many do not get up early enough, many do not stay up late enough. Out of the millions and millions of men, women and children on this globe only a comparatively few see the sunrise, and I dare say there are many respectable persons who have never seen it at all. One really should not go through life without seeing the sun rise at least once, because, even if one is fortunate enough to be received at last into heaven, there is one sight wherein this vale of tears surpasses the eternal home of the saints. "There is no night there," hence there can be no dawn, no sunrise; it is therefore better to make the most of it while we can.
As a man feels refreshed after a night's sleep and his morning bath, so the sun seems to rise out of the water like a giant renewed. Milton gave us an excellent description:
So sinks the daystar in the ocean bed, And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore Flames in the forehead of the morning sky.
Browning, in his poem, Pippa Passes, compares the sunrise to a glass of champagne, a sparkling wine overflowing the world:
Faster and more fast,
O'er night's brim,
day boils at last:
Boils, pure gold,
o'er the cloud-cup's brim,
Where spurting and suppressed it lay,
For not a froth-flake touched the rim
Of yonder gap in the solid gray
Of the eastern cloud, an hour away;
But forth one wavelet,
then another, curled.
Till the whole sunrise,
not to be suppressed,
and its seething breast Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world.
The sunset has a tranquil beauty but to me there is in it always a tinge of sadness, of the sadness of farewell, of the approach of darkness. This mood is expressed in the old hymn which in my childhood I used to hear so often in church Fading, still fading, the last beam is shining, Father in heaven! the day is declining. Safety and innocence fly with the light, Temptation and danger walk forth with the night.
Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning, saith the Holy Book. The sunrise has not only inexpressible majesty and splendour, but it has the rapture of promise, the excitement of beginning again. Yesterday has gone forever, the night is over and we may start anew. To how many eyes. weary with wakefulness in the long watches of the night, or flushed with fever, is the first glimmer of the dawn welcome. The night makes every fear and worry worse than the reality, it magnifies every trivial distress. Mark Twain said the night brought madness-none of us is quite sane in the darkness. That particular regret for yesterday or apprehension for tomorrow that strikes you like a whiplash in the face at 2:45 A.M. dwindles into an absurdity in the healthy dawn.
Mark Twain, who had expressed the difference between the night and the morning tragically, also expressed it humorously. He said that when he was lying awake in the middle of the night he felt like an awful sinner, he hated himself with a horrible depression and made innumerable good resolutions; but when at 7:30 he was shaving himself he felt just as cheerful, healthy and unregenerate as ever.
I am a child of the morning. I love the dawn and the sunrise. When I was a child I saw the sunrise from the top of Whiteface and it seemed to me that I not only saw beauty but heard celestial music. Ever since reading in George Moore's Evelyn Innes the nun's description of her feelings while listening to Wagner's Prologue to Lohengrin I myself never hear that lovely music rising to a tremendous climax without seeing in imagination what was revealed to the Sister of Mercy. I am on a mountain top before dawn; the darkness gives way; the greyness strengthens, and finally my whole mind and soul are filled with the increasing light.