Sun and Moon - Hartmann Schedel 1440-1514 - Nuremburg Chronicle
"A day is a unit of time, commonly defined as an interval equal to 24 hours. It also can mean that portion of the full day during which a location is illuminated by the light of the sun. The period of time measured from local noon to the following local noon is called a solar day." This is how Wikipedia starts the entry for DAY, very prosaically. Wikipedia's soul has no poetry.
Not like Philip Larkin, who asks:
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in;
Where can we live but day?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
in their long coats
Running over the field.
I've asked the day for an answer, but answer came there none.
When Hemera, Greek goddess of the day, daughter of Erebos (Darkness) and Nyx (Night) and sister-wife to Aither (Light) sends the first finger of light to tickle my eyelids and then puts her whole hand on my face to awaken me, my first question is not: 'what will you do for me', but: what do you want me to do for you today'. It is the answer to the next question which will allow me to establish a plan: 'which of the seven days of the week are you?'
It's hardly the riddle of the Theban Sphynx and my answer will not condemn me to be eaten by the beast; I know it must be morning and I shall walk on two legs, rather than four, just as soon as I have thrown off the bed clothes.
Days are where we live. Diaries and appointment books are the signposts and the instruction manual allocates tasks for the day. Whether these tasks be pleasant or hard, perform them we must, with grace and diligence. That is the purpose of the day. How else will we deserve the solace of the evening? Mealtimes and playtimes provide sustenance, rest and recreation, if we use them well. If friends and friendly acquaintances play a role in our day then we are to be congratulated. Whether they alone can account for happiness, I couldn't say. Happiness is a rare gift, those of us who are passengers in Phoebus' chariot on his earth-circling journey may catch a glimpse of it, as momentary as the flash of the swallow's silver wing before it rises out of sight. I think Larkin is wrong when he says days are to be happy in, how could we bear unalloyed joy?
I need my dull routine, I want my signposts to point to well-trodden and comfortable paths and my mealtimes to be pleasant. To share my bread with friends will be a pleasure, fair-weather friends will find the boat is full. If pleasant conversation, not gossip, is your aim, please ring the doorbell, or better still, call round the back where you will find an open door.
I freely admit, my day is dull, and priest and doctor can do nothing about it. So stay where you are and tend to those who need you more. If I have been fortunate and have been granted a glimpse of the silver wing of happiness out of the corner of my eye, I'll even return your medicine.
In the evening, when Hemera's mother Nyx draws a veil of darkness between the shining atmosphere of the aither and the lower air of earth (aer), bringing night to me, I'll draw my curtain too. If wine, 'God's next best gift to man' makes an appearance at that time, it will be welcome. And furthermore, when the day comes and my answer to the Sphynx's riddle must be 'three legs', I shall be grateful if my days shall have remained as dull as they are now.
With Stevie Smith, I'll gladly say:
Put out that Light,
Put out that bright Light,
Let darkness fall.
Put out that Day,
It is the time for nightfall.
Helius, Nyx and Hemera-Heos, Athenian
black-figure lekythos C5th BC, Metropolitan Museum