“This dead of midnight is the noon of thought”

“A Summer’s Evening’s Meditation” by Anna Laetitia Barbauld

This dead of midnight is the noon of thought,

And wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars.

At this still hour the self-collected soul

Turns inward, and beholds a stranger there

Of high descent, and more than mortal rank (51-55)

These lines recall “She mused away the gaudy hours of noon / And fed on thoughts unripened by the sun” (21-22). The “noon” in both places invoke the moon. The juxtapositions in this poem, light and dark, sun and moon, day and night, are demonstrated in the syntax of line 51, juxtaposing “dead of midnight” and “noon of thought” while playing with the words “midnight” and “noon.” These lines also introduce a juxtaposition of the silence and stillness of the night, and the excitement of the soul, with the quiet “w,” “s,” “h,” and “th” sounds in words like “wisdom,” “inward,” and “beholds,” in contrast with the strong verbs, “mounts,” “collected,” and “turns.” These lines and the poem in whole praise the capacity of human-beings, and women especially. As a mortal, the speaker’s wisdom can reach the stars. The speaker is able to contain the divine, “An embryo God” (56) like a mother. The sun being masculine fails to ripen the speaker’s thoughts, but the moon being feminine and usually associated with fertility, stimulates the soul. By observing and immersing herself in nature, the speaker has a sublime experience that elevates her spirit to a self-discovery. Apart from the sublimity, self-discovery, and the solitary hero (heroine in this case), giving humans immortal powers is also a Romantic trope (I’m thinking of Byron’s Manfred). The mortal is able to contain and become one with the infinite. The light dies with the sun, but the human soul comes alive. I’m also intrigued by astronomy and the empirical science in the Romantic era and the role of women in science. The speaker is simultaneously turning inward to observe the self and looking outside herself at the universe.

One thought on ““This dead of midnight is the noon of thought””

  1. I enjoyed your close reading here! I was especially focused on your close reading of the sound of the words and the softness in them. I think that Barbauld’s word choice of “zenith” at, “And wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars”. “Zenith” carries the hard z sound which stands out against the other softer letters. This emphasizes the power in wisdom and the connection that the mind has to nature (the stars). This line also highlighted the aspect that is related to the divinity in a woman’s thoughts. As you said, wisdom can reach the stars, and the fact that this wisdom that is able to reach the stars is being gendered as “her” creates the aspect of divinity in the poem that is associated with femininity.

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