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The Metaphorical Meaning of Day & Night: Examples of Metaphors in Literature

The night is dark and full of terrors.

— Melisandre, Game of Thrones

How many times have you read something like this in some story or a novel? Or something along the lines of: the evening gloom was gathering?

I am sure it isn’t a rare occurrence. Night, day, morning, evening, they seem ordinary to us. We see the sun rising and setting daily and live through the time of noon when everything is active and chaotic. Similarly, we spend the time of night when there is silence and peace. They are so obvious and ordinary that we don't even notice them. But if you look closer, there are layers upon layers of complexities of meanings and emotions hidden in them that sometime we cannot even comprehend. That is why the use of day & night as metaphors is so common in art and literature.

Have you ever noticed how your mood changes during different hours of the day? The change is subtle. You may say that this change is because of the job I do, or it is due to the daily chores, etc. But observe yourself one day when you are at home, idle and unoccupied. You will notice that the changes in the mood still occur. Of course, these changes are subjective because some feel happy in the morning and some feel gloomy. For some, night brings imperceptible loneliness and darkness of mood, for others, it is a time of euphoria and liberty.

Examples of Metaphors in Literature

These shifts of mood are quite invisible when they happen and we only notice them when they are in full swing. It is these feelings that artists and creators bring out with the help of metaphors to create settings. For example, the night is a symbol of terror in a special context.

Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased by tales, so is the other.

Sir Francis Bacon

The darkness of the night is a perfect setting for any piece of art depicting horror. The darkness symbolizes the unknown dark crevices in the infinities of the universe. Along with that, it portrays the unknown inside us; the unconscious and the demons sleeping within, who stir when we are in the dark. This primordial fear is deep inside all of us. Children and sensitive people feel it and are always fearful of the darkness, even under the safest circumstances. This horror is perfectly canonized in the poem The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe:

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
Merely this and nothing more.

Night is also used as the time of peace, when we reflect on the chaos and business of the day. The time of union between lovers long separated. Night is the time when our feelings and thoughts are calm like water and we are true to ourselves. It is also a time of transcendence especially the time of dawn. In many religious traditions, such as Islam and Sikhism, dawn is the time of meditation and prayer. For artists too, this is a special time. Some artists are deeply affected by night and what it hides. They are more comfortable with producing art in the late hours when everything is silent and asleep.

In general, the night symbolizes the unknown for us. We fear the unknown and try to hide from it, in walls and houses. But for natural adventurers and people who are curious, night time symbolizes opportunity and endeavor because surely there is much hidden in the unknown that is very useful for us.

The night ends and the morning starts. This is a time of change. Silence changes into noise. Inactivity changes into activity. For most people morning brings freshness and a new start where they can try something new. For others, mornings are full of anxiety and tension as they look at the whole day as a foreboding for something bad to come. It is because they are tired of life and its mundaneness or maybe it is something more complex.

Some artists use morning imagery for depicting beauty and freshness of the world or their love. For example,

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief;

— Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

Moreover, morning wind is a classical metaphor in Persian and Urdu poetry. Poets use the scene of morning to announce some new event or a fresh idea.

The morning wind spreads its fresh smell.
We must get up to take that in,
that wind that lets us live.
Breathe, before it's gone.


Evening is a time of work done and a day gone. A time forever lost to memory and history. In poetry, it is the time of melancholy and sadness. Robert Frost's famous poem takes place in the dark hours of the evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Charles Baudelaire's, The Sunset of Romanticism is another example. It uses the sunset as a metaphor for the end of the Age of Romanticism in Europe. 

The evening time is most often associated with sadness and loss and only a few have tried to depict the evening atmosphere as something hopeful. It can be a hopeful setting in an urban environment where the nightlife starts with sunset but in a more natural environment or rural settings, evening is always a time of deep melancholy thoughts and going back.

Different times of day & night are very commonly used as metaphors in literature and arts but their perfect use is very rare. For brilliant use of metaphors, we need to build the right context, mood, and a continuous narrative or perhaps we need something more: A deeper look at nature and a contemplation about its cycle that invisibly merges with our lives and our problems.

Edited by cherrywine_stains

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