The Complaint: Or, Night Thoughts "By Night An Atheist Half-believes In God"

Edward Young

"By Night An Atheist Half-believes In God"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poet excoriates the use of "wit" in poetry, which too often is used to exalt sensuality and not virtue. The bulk of the poetry of sensuality far exceeds that of virtue, which should be the true subject of poetry. The poet goes on to say that night is the time for thought; during daylight, virtue, a frail and fair thing, suffers in the crowd. Few people bring back to their homes at evening the manners they possessed in the morning; their thoughts are blotted by the corruption of the world, their good resolutions are shaken, their thoughts tainted. The example of others is a bad thing; people see vain ambition and are stimulated to pursue their own ambitions. The riot, pride, and perfidy everywhere evident undermine otherwise good and virtuous people and set them upon wrong courses. A single glance can carry infection. Safety lies only in remaining remote from the crowd. At night, freed from the fevers and distractions of the day, we are close to the deity; we realize our faults and vice loses its allurements and looks as black as the night itself. At night even the atheist has doubts about his spiritual questionings and almost believes in God.

This sacred shade, and solitude, what is it?
'Tis the felt presence of the deity.
Few are the faults we flatter when alone,
Vice sinks in her allurements, is ungilt,
And looks, like other objects, black by night.
By night an atheist half-believes in God.