Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Night and Morning” has three main themes. Modern individuals of thought and education find it difficult to hold on to traditional religious beliefs; moreover, the modern Church has failed to keep alive the faith of the past, because the modern Church does not foster intellectual inquiry. Finally, modern individuals suffer from internal conflicts of self-division, hidden under the same cloak of hypocrisy that afflicts the institution of the Church itself.

These themes are developed in ironic and self-critical ways. Intellect should be laid to rest during the sleep of night, but instead it asserts itself to challenge faith. Ironically, at night the speaker can most fully identify with the suffering Christ, because the speaker suffers most at night from his pain of doubt. The Church, like the priest, turns its back not only on the people of the congregation, but also on its own history; its “many councils and decrees/ Have perished,” partly because they did not address individual needs, partly because they did not educate simple minds, and partly because they were merely abstractions without force to survive uncomprehending persons who submitted without thought—“gave obedience to the knee.” Instead of keeping Europe “astir/ With echo of learned controversy,” the Church has acquiesced to a passive authoritarianism.

The consequence of that acquiescence, for a person of thought, is unbearable agony. Unable to believe in miracles...

(The entire section is 546 words.)