Hello patient readers. I return to you this month with another brief dispatch, a December puzzle.

The sun sets early these days. It slips behind the horizon while we’re in the middle of things, before we’re done. Here before the solstice, sunset doesn’t bring the day to a close, but instead opens to a second dark day. With it come certain possibilities.

The blue disc, set against a featureless beige background, darkens by layers to the center. First a ring of light blue-green, then a thin darker ring, another, and finally the deep teal blue center. It isn't round like the outer ring, but irregular, lumpy and organic like a pebble. If you held the disc in your hand it might feel like a coin made of agate.

Blue Disc by Kim Lim, 1970

When the sun sets, the sky opens to a vast celestial cavern. The daytime veil is pulled back to reveal the heavens, which of course are there all the time, wheeling, but only in darkness can we see them. Darkness is thus a clearing; it turns out to be more transparent than daylight, which forms an opaque layer between the earth and the sky. Daylight affords all manner of discernment, a gift no doubt, but darkness allows for relation. Each night we can relate for a time to the cosmos.

Sleep is just the same, an interior microcosm of the night sky. Waking consciousness clears like the sky after sunset and in the dark of sleep we glimpse the dream, which by some accounts is already underway, always going on beyond our nearsighted attention to outer happenings.1 Sleep then is a nightly unveiling. In his introduction to the fragments of Heraclitus, James Hillman speaks of dream as

the flickering activity of the mind participating in the world’s imagination.

Participation, relation, reunion; the province of night.

As the sky opens, the first light to cross the threshold from night is Venus, the evening star — here personified as Hesperus, that son of rosy-fingered dawn whose name means of the evening. This time of year approaching the solstice he appears most brightly, signalling the depth of the present darkness by contrast, and by sympathy the pending return of the light. But do we recognize something in his luminous features? A certain resemblance? His half-brother Phosphorus, literally light-bringing, appears at the other end of night, just before sunrise. Phosphorus is the last of night’s clarity disappearing behind the scattering veil of daylight. The brothers are distinct, we cannot deny, but also the same.

In daylight we are tempted to discern between these two bodies, but at night their coincidence poses no problem. Discernment is in this way an obfuscating function, an eminently solar instrument, by which we might stray to dissociation. Night’s lucidity, on the other hand, leaves us with an enigma: Hesperus is Phosphorus; evening is the bringer of light. Darkness is a clearing, if we choose it.

A puzzle, as promised. Thanks for reading along with this better-late-than-never November installment of Polylith. I can’t see you all out there through the early winter dusk, but I’ll assume you’re cozy in a patch of lamplight. Until next month, keep flickering.

  1. In her book Encounters with the Soul, the psychotherapist Barbara Hannah relates that Jung once told her he thought ‘the dream was always going on in the unconscious, but that it usually needs sleep and the complete cessation of attention to outer things for it to register in consciousness at all’.