The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 392

“Night and Morning” is a short poem of thirty-six lines, divided into four stanzas with nine lines each. The title indicates the direction the poem moves—from night to morning—but also the division of feeling expressed by the speaker, who has thoughts at night that subvert his feelings in the morning.

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The first stanza opens with a statement of certain knowledge, as the speaker expresses his personal identification with those who have suffered misery for hundreds of years. As in a dream, in his sleep he feels the injury of pride, the shame of mockery, and the humiliation of insult. These are elements of the suffering narrated in the Passion of Christ, as suggested by the reference to “the house of Caesar.” This identification is only partial, however, since the speaker’s thoughts are divided by doubts. The result is that he is tormented into a despair that must borrow clothing to disguise his doubts.

When morning comes, in the second stanza, the speaker goes to Mass, where he arrives with others at the appointed hour. He observes the celebration of Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) as a ritual of mere appearances: There is no awesome transformation of the wafer and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The priest turns his back on his congregation when he adores his God. The speaker still feels his spiritual torment, even after Mass, even after the saints have all been celebrated.

In his continuing torment, the speaker recalls in the third stanza how humble acts of faith in the past have annihilated the complications of thought and deliberation. He recalls that many have labored, in great intellectual discourses, from rostrums, in early morning hours of composition, to lift simple life into heights of significance. All those labors, however, are now as forgotten as are the many intellectual martyrs who sought to restore truths of dead languages (including Latin) into living ideas.

Finally, in the last stanza, the speaker celebrates the time when, long ago, Europe was alive with intellectual debate and followed the lead of logic. Then the reality of heaven united with the reality of earth; human beings felt whole, proud, and united in their communion with one another. In that time, faith was a product of intellectual commitment, as divinity shared its being with humanity: “God was made man once more.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 477

“Night and Morning” is both a form of confession and an internal debate. It uses metaphors and allusion within a framework of irony to make its meaning rich and complex. As a confession, it may be spoken to a priest, or a psychoanalyst, but it is confessional mainly in an ironic sense: What ought to be confessed, loss of faith, cannot be confessed to those with faith. It can only be expressed, or confessed, to one’s self. In this respect, the poem has the form of a debate between body and soul, with a translation of the disputants into “thought” and “belief.”

Biblical and church (Roman Catholic) allusions give the poem context and orientation. “The house of Caesar” of stanza 1 is countered by “the nave,” “the altar,” “adoring priest,” and “the congregation” of the second stanza. Kneeling and Holy Communion (Eucharist) allude to church ritual in the third stanza, continued into the final stanza with its “choir” and making of God into man. The poem alludes to specific biblical events from the New Testament and the church calendar, beginning with the Passion of Christ in the first stanza, All Saints’ Day in the second, “cock-rise” and “miracle that raisedthe dead” in the third (as references to the Resurrection and the raising of Lazarus). Historical allusions are broadened in the third stanza, with “councils and decrees” (such as the Council of Trent) and scholastic debates of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in the last stanza’s “learned controversy” and “holy rage of argument.”

Metaphors join abstractions with concrete images to dramatize the pain of intellectual doubt: “the tormented soulmust wear a borrowed robe,” “minds that bled,” and “logic led the choir.” Metaphors also unite logical contraries in conceits of paradox: “every moment that can holdthe miserable act/ Of centuries,” and “God was made man.” When these are expressed from within a framework of irony, they acquire an additional feeling of pain. Their very expression becomes subject to doubt, as if to say, it is not church figures who have bled in body for humankind—rather, it is the intellectual skeptics, the doubters themselves, who have bled and sacrificed to make possible a religious history of doubtful substance.

Irony unfolds at the center of the poem, when the speaker observes that the priest turns “his back/ Of gold upon the congregation.” Literally, this occurs in the celebration of the Mass; figuratively, it exposes the sterile and hypocritical relationship of priests (church/religion/faith) to people. Irony here develops from the device of punning, continued into the final couplet of the second stanza: “All saints have had their day at last,/ But thought still lives in pain.” Besides echoing the expression “Every dog has its day,” this couplet turns upon the celebration of “All Saints’ Day” to show how ineffective it is in relieving the speaker’s spiritual pain.

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Themes