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Posts tagged night

from "To the Dairy Queen and Back," by John Landretti, Orion Magazine, January/February 2009

In the heart of the big myths is the dark passage, the Night Sea Journey; it contains the most ominous and mysterious places through which the hero must pass before the quest, whatever it is, can be fulfilled. One thinks of Dante going down, layer after fantastical layer, or of Odysseus, his ship sunk, swimming alone to Phaeacia, or even of the Ugly Duckling struggling through his long and awful winter. In one of our oldest stories, the legend of Gilgamesh, the great king—Gilgamesh—loses his friend in death. This throws him into angst about his own mortality, so he goes to seek a workaround in the faraway land of the divine. As part of his dark journey, Gilgamesh must run through a tunnel under the earth, the very tunnel the sun uses on its return from west to east. He must clear the tunnel before the sun heaves through—and (I spill the beans) he does so without incident. Yet among the many Night Sea images, I find this small passage particularly haunting: the image of one man running for hours in cindered darkness, watching for the first light of another world while at the same time listening for the ominous rumbling of a star. In the old writings of the sublime and the beautiful, there’s the observation that the difference between beauty and terror is largely a matter of distance. A single star on the horizon awakens a poignant joy, but much closer to its fires, the earlier joy grades quickly into a feeling more edgy and raw.