Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Today - Thomas Carlyle

So here hath been dawning
Another blue Day:
Think wilt thou let it
Slip useless away.

Out of Eternity
This new Day is born;
Into Eternity,
At night, will return.

Behold it aforetime
No eye ever did:
So soon it forever
From all eyes is hid.

Here hath been dawning
Another blue Day:
Think wilt thou let it
Slip useless away.

I particularly like this Thomas Carlyle poem for how its intricacies are belied by its simple structure and rhyme scheme.  What at first read seems just a simple, almost childish aphorism about how every day is a new day, upon closer looks, perhaps has more to reveal to us.

The most striking feature of this poem to me, the one that makes me think this is more than just some bumper sticker type maxim, is the lack of  a question mark in that central repeated phrase: "Think wilt thou let it / Slip useless away."  If this were a question, it would be asking the reader directly, "Are you going to let this day slip you by?"  Instead, we are given a statement.  I read it almost as, "If you think too much, this day will pass you by."

Rather than asking the reader, it's more cautionary, in my view.  Carlyle lived an extraordinarily long life, from 1795 to 1881, and was a titan in the Victorian literary scene.  Also inextricable from his work is his Scottish birth, upbringing, and life.  While he eventually moved to Chelsea, his formative years and early adult years were spent in Scotland, and he was very much of the Calvinist persuasion.  Carlyle had an obsession with order, duty, and destiny.  Calvinists were a Christian sect particularly fond of the notion of predestination.  So for Carlyle, when he writes that every day is new, and never before seen, and says, "Think wilt thou let it/ Slip useless away" it takes on a much different tone. 

I get the sense that beneath the sing-song feeling of the poem is an earnest warning to productivity and industry.  It is another blue day, and it will pass you by, and that day will never come again.  It is not a question of whether it should slip useless away or not.

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