Enchanted Night

First of all, I wanted to include a visual or two as a kind of follow-up to the “Glory Day” posting. This is the view westward from the end of my driveway in Illinois. So the fireworks were happening in this direction, and more importantly, every evening, the sunset happens in this direction. Twilight has always been one of my favorite times. Perhaps it’s the edge-ness of it: it’s the boundary between day and night, so it seems a natural time for the boundaries between worlds to go all thin. I’ve always thought that one might see anything at all in the twilight. That thought fascinated me as a child — and scared me a little — but then and now (when I’m back there), every single twilight hour that I’m free, I’m wandering about outdoors. In rural Illinois, there are still fireflies winking in abundance. Lord Dunsany wrote a poem about wanting to go inside, because the evening is getting cold, but being held by the thought that he might miss something if he doesn’t stay to watch the whole sunset until it’s over. You never know what’s going to unfold in the sunset.

It may be those colors, too, that make the hour so magical. The sky throws off its responsible blue that it wears to work in all day. The sky does extraordinary things in the hour of dusk. And the Earth responds, dimming its own hues to black in awe. My parents told me that one of the words I learned to say very early on in my life was “silhouette.” I’d point at the oak trees in the gloaming, gazing at them in round-eyed wonder, and proclaim “Silhouette. Silhouette.”

Anyway, this is the time of year when I have to recommend the perfect book for this season:

Enchanted Night, by Steven Millhauser.

I discovered this book in a Tokyo bookstore. It was the title and the cover that compelled me to buy it. The moment I saw it, there was no question of not buying it. On the cover, we see a low-aerial view of a small-town neighborhood in the beautiful blues and purples of moonlight, punctuated by the warm yellow glows of some lighted windows and the effulgence of a big round moon in the sky. All over the picture are the characters from the book, some in the windows, some out in the dark. All the people and poses are suggestive of story threads that will intrigue and delight.

It’s a slim novella told in short episodes, glimpses into the lives of its diverse cast — all linked by the town they’re in and by the single summer night in which it all unfolds. Millhauser is a virtuoso. The writing is breathtakingly beautiful, the elements vibrant, nostalgic, and haunting. Here is a writer who understands that a summer night is something sacred, a time like no other. The book reminds me of how wonderful it is to be alive, and to be able to go through summer every single year.

I first started reading the book at 11:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 29, 2000 — a hot, clear summer night under a waning moon. I finished it at 2:04 a.m. on Saturday, July 29, 2000 — also a hot, clear summer night under a waning moon. I read the book entirely during late nights, and not a single word by the light of day; this is a book for summer nights. The hotter the season when you read it, the better.

I’ve also read Millhauser’s The Knife Thrower and Other Stories and loved it, too.

By the way, since I’m writing this on July 7: this is the Star Festival (Tanabata) here in Japan. According to an ancient legend, a prince and princess (not related to each other) were deeply in love, but circumstances kept them apart. They became stars in the sky, and once each year, the two stars meet; once a year, on 7/7, the lovers come together. So this is the time of year when what people desperately long for may be granted. In Japan, hopes and requests are written on strips of paper, which are then tied to the branches of a delicate bamboo tree. These aren’t pleas for objects (like a Christmas list), but generally less material things, such as prayers for healing, or for wisdom, or to pass an all-important test . . . or, in the spirit of Tanabata, to find true love.

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7 Responses to “Enchanted Night”

  1. Tandemcat Says:

    Thanks for including the beautiful sunset pictures! Silhouettes indeed! _Enchanted Night_ is on my list of books to read this summer, but I can’t promise to read it all in the dark! 🙂

  2. fsdthreshold Says:

    Wow! I just happened to look at this posting on a school computer, and those sunset/silhouette pictures are a LOT prettier than they look on my computer at home! I hope you’ve all got computers like the kind here at the university! The sunset glow should look warm and fiery.

  3. Tandemcat Says:

    Yes, computer monitors vary widely. I’ve always been fussy about that, and have this one honed to a fine degree–the pictures are gorgeous!

    With Fred’s permission, I’m posting the first of three evening poems that I’ve written lately, to go with that theme. Persons interested in seeing more of my poetry may go to http://allpoetry.com/Jornada

    EVENING SONG 1

    Casselman River,
    Seen from train window.

    Misty vapors rise
    From lazy ripples,

    Bank to bank
    In broad, rocky bed.

    Muted sunset
    Casts soft light,

    Orange, red, deep blue
    In the western sky.

  4. Tandemcat Says:

    EVENING SONG 3

    Blue Ridge Parkway,
    When twilight’s almost gone:

    Mountains and mountains
    In the distance around, endless;
    I can see forever
    In all directions.

    Headlights off, the road is clear;
    I can drive for miles and miles;
    This is too beautiful to waste:

    The moon comes out
    To cast its glow;
    I’m like a cat
    Flowing through the darkness.

    Peak after peak, blending into
    Valley after valley,
    Without stopping; there are

    More mountains than I can count
    While the car purrs on.

    But I want to see them all;

    I want to go on driving
    Until I get home.

    I hope I get to do this again sometime! (I _did_ turn my headlights on when cars approached from the opposite direction, but I hated it!)

  5. Tandemcat Says:

    I’ve tried twice to post this; Fred says it’s his favorite of the three, and it is mine, as well. The first two times I tried, the poem just disappeared. This time, the software says it looks as if I already submitted the same thing. So I’m adding this paragraph in hopes it will let it through.

    EVENING SONG 2

    We just left Mt. Vernon;
    The kittens are snoozing in the back
    Under the watchful eye of their
    Guardian boy.

    A soft haze hovers over the fields;
    Behind us,
    Sunset is dying in the west.

    A rosy glow suffuses
    Corn, soybeans, alfalfa,
    Sprouting alive from the ground;

    Farmhouse porch lights are dimmed,
    gathering the silence.

    Ahead lie restful warm blue darkness
    And more small, slumbering towns

    Along the straight, smooth, highway,
    Familiar path for years untold,
    Undisturbed by other travelers
    For the moment.

    She is curled up on the seat beside me,
    Blonde hair above closed eyelids, asleep.

    For ten miles, absolutely nothing is wrong.

    This was a moment on the FUR (Feline Underground Railroad) run which we made on the tenth anniversary of my starting teaching. We were doing our part in moving two homeless kittens from Omaha, Nebraska to Rochester, New York.

  6. Daylily Says:

    Tandemcat, I’m glad you tricked the software into accepting Evening Song 2! That’s one to read several times, gathering in that feeling of peace.

  7. fsdthreshold Says:

    The mystery is solved: for whatever reason, your first two attempts to post “Evening Song 2” ended up in the spam heap! I just now discovered them.

    Thank you for posting these! For me, it’s the last line of “Evening Song 2” that lifts it to a whole higher level. That line takes this single, individual experience (which is beautifully conveyed) and makes it universal. The line causes us all to reflect on such times of perfect beauty and peace in our own lives. We’re reminded of their rarity . . . of how soon they’re over . . . and yet of what great gifts they are. Thanks be to God for the “ten-mile stretches”!

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