Login   Sign Up 


Midnight Sun

by James Graham 

Posted: 29 May 2007
Word Count: 105
Summary: I wrote this in 1976, after a walk on the cliffs in Islay. The title is poetic licence - the sun was setting at about eleven o'clock.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

Midnight Sun

There was a shallow sigh.
The single eye of heaven
rolled upwards.
The sallow moon,
disarmed by the sun's long
arrogation of the night,
seemed to say aye.
The wasted sky,
too weary to recall
an old euphoria of winds,
made no assertion.

Yet the ocean rose against it.

Though it heaved and wrenched
its fathoms into fingers
white at the nerve-ends,
and tumbled in its bed,
it could not lay
the wide-eyed phantom
watching at the foot.

Poor insomniac, neither free
nor rock-fast, though it thrust
its fingers in the eyes
of spying caves,
the ends of earth
endured their light wounds.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

joolsk at 10:51 on 31 May 2007  Report this post
Hi James,

I found this startlingly original and a wonderful read... I feel a strong envy for your wonderful use of words!

No suggestions - to me, this is a very polished piece.


joanie at 19:14 on 31 May 2007  Report this post
James, I keep returning to this. I love the image of the moon: single eye of heaven but even more the fantastic images of the sea..... I can see the sea as I type and my mind is whirring.

I need to keep reading and getting my head round this. It is just wonderful.


Tina at 09:08 on 16 June 2007  Report this post
After a long absence I dip a toe into Writewords again and notice this - posted on my birthday!

As always very evokative writing which stirs the imagination. I particularly liked the final verse - the idea of the light fingering the land is one I really related to as light can take on so many different characteristics. I also liked

the wide-eyed phantom
watching at the foot

Lovely writing - have a great time with your visitors.


Jordan789 at 06:26 on 18 June 2007  Report this post
Hello James. Sorry to be so slow in this response. I've been out of poetry for a while now, and I don't know why, but maybe I am due for a return.

Onwards to the poem:

I like the poem. I like it a lot. Something about the poem being written 30 years ago also strikes an interest in me. Because I wonder about 30 years ago, and what that was like, and what your life was like then. It's a real time warp.


The verbs are probably the oddest parts of the poem, and they convey a stark dissonance to the setting, which would seem to be almost peaceful in a lot of cases. Instead the moon and the sun are somewhat at war with each other. And the waters fight the air, or at least completely contrast one another. The adjectives jump out at me next. With the shallow sigh and the sallow moon, wasted/weary sky, and the white-tipped fingers of the sea "thrusting it's fingers into the eyes" of caves. How remarkably violent!

Though it heaved and wrenched
its fathoms into fingers
white at the nerve-ends,
and tumbled in its bed,
it could not lay
the wide-eyed phantom
watching at the foot.

the above is such a lovely bit. between the metaphors and the verbs, i imagine a horrific sea monster, Neptune in his furies, "Heaving and wrenching" and laying a raucous to everything.

I do admit I am not sure what the "wide-eyed phantom" might be, except maybe the sun? well, yes, i suppose it must be so.
and then the next line's "poor insomniac" must be the sun. And how lovely to personify the sun at such an hour as a poor insomniac. Very freakin' cool.

nice read. such energy.

James Graham at 20:46 on 19 June 2007  Report this post
Thanks to all for your comments. There's an interesting instance here of what happens when a poem comes out of hiding and is put up for inspection. (So far this one hasn't been published.) You become aware of how the poem looks to others, and how they understand it. Sometimes it's like that Rubin Vase* drawing which is an optical illusion - it can be either a vase or two faces looking towards each other. Tina, for you the light is fingering the land; Jordan, for you the sun is the poor insomniac. For me, the sea is the insomniac, and it's the sea that fingers the land. Your readings make me look at the poem again and think about the language - ask whether there's anything that gives readers a different impression from the one I intended.

With some poems I really believe it doesn't matter whether it's a vase or two faces - in other words, a poem can be ambiguous and different readers can understand it in different ways, ways also different from the way the author understands it. But in this poem I really want it to be the sea, not the sun. I want the sea to be the poor insomniac tossing and turning in its bed and thrusting long white-tipped fingers into caves. Not the sun, or the light. The sun is a silent, sinister phantom standing like an apparition at the horizon, i.e. the foot of the ocean's bed; and the light in this scene is unnatural and disturbing. The sea is meant to be the focus, its energy contrasting with the pallor and passivity of everything else.

The single line, 'Yet the ocean rose against it' is meant to indicate that the rest of the poem is about the ocean; the ocean's restlessness seems to reflect the unsettling feeling I had after witnessing this apparent failure of night to follow day as it should. The ocean heaves and thrusts at the land (there's a spot on the cliff where I was walking, where you can look down through a cleft in the rock and see waves crashing into the cave below - and hear the enormous sucking noise as the sea pulls back). The restless ocean is unable to 'lay' (exorcise) the solar phantom. The land is almost unaffected by the sea's little incursions - it suffers only 'light wounds'.

For me, the sea is the protagonist of the last two sections. But if a whole bunch of readers said, 'Sorry, I don't see that at all. To me, it's the sun', there would be a failure of communication somewhere in the language or structure of the poem. When I take another hard look at the poem though, I have to say I think there's probably enough to make it mean what I want it to mean. If you don't agree, please say so - I mean, if you think the poem by itself, without any of my explanations, doesn't convey clearly that its two last sections are all about the sea, please say so.

The great poets, especially the dead ones, have the advantage that scholars have written books and commentaries about their work. If we're not sure what Yeats or William Carlos Williams was on about in a poem, we can get some help from criticism or even Coles Notes. Famous poems make themselves familiar to new generations. But a new poem, shyly making its first appearance in society, can be misunderstood, or make a fool of itself, or indeed make no impression at all.


*See 'Rubin vase' in Wikipedia.

Jordan789 at 06:04 on 20 June 2007  Report this post
I can see that it's the sea. And I was hesitant to guess the sun as being the insomniac, but following these lines:

it could not lay
the wide-eyed phantom
watching at the foot.

I figured that the "wide-eyed phantom" (the sun) was the insomniac, and also became the subject of the last stanza. Given the close, almost interchangeable phrase of "wide-eyed phantom" and the "poor insomniac," which follows in the next line. Of course there are other clues that make that last stanza seem to be about the sea, because you return to the "fingers," but, again, i could also see this description work almost as aptly as for the sun. Because the sun's rays could also penetrate some of the ways into a cave, or at least blind their "spying" faces.

James Graham at 15:49 on 22 June 2007  Report this post
There's a good point in what you're saying here. I can see that maybe we do have a Rubin vase in these sections of the poem. One reader sees the sun as the insomniac, another sees the sea. Or one reader sees both and can't decide which it's meant to be. One possible change might be to replace 'wide-eyed' with something else that doesn't suggest the sun is sleepless. I'll think about that. Thanks for your helpful comments.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .