Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Hal Coase 'Ochre Pitch' Gregory Woods 'On Queerness' Kirsty Gunn 'On Risk! Carl Phillips' Galina Rymbu 'What I Haven't Written' translated by Sasha Dugdale Gabriel Josipovici 'No More Stories' Valerie Duff-Strautmann 'Anne Carson's Wrong Norma'
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This poem is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

Hymns to the Night Novalis

Bodleian Ms Don. e.48. A transcription made by Betram Dobell from manuscripts then in the possession of G.W. Foote. The original was dated 14/6/65, and Dobell noted that 'it should be published I think some day with a note stating that the translations never received the author's final revisions'. Many words in Dobell's transcription were underlined, a common marking of Thomson's to indicate possible future substitution. The translation has never been published in full, its most substantial excerpts having made their first appearance in Places of the Mind published by Cape in 1993. A limited edition of 250 copies containing Thomson's full translation with work by other poets, is being prepared by Simon Reynolds and Michael Russell.

After a mutually beneficial pooling of knowledge, Simon Reynolds has helpfully pointed out a number of my own errors in transcription. Any errors remaining are my own responsibility. The transcription here differs most from that of Simon Reynolds in that it capitalises fewer nouns than the text to be separately published. The truth is that Dobell's transcription of Thomson's original is in a handwriting that is often quite difficult to read.



Who is there that loves not above all other phenomena of the broad space about him the joyous light with its colours, its beams and waves, its supreme omnipresence in the morning of the Day? As if the inmost soul of Life, it inspires the pauseless starry heavens, and floats dancing in their blue' depth; it inspires the sparkling inert stone, the patient absorbing plant, and the wild burning many-shaped beasts; but above all the glorious Stranger with the expressive eyes, the wavering motion and the tuneful throat. As a king of earthly nature it calls forth each power to countless transformations, knits and dissolves countless alliances, invests every earthly being with its heavenly effluence. Its presence alone reveals the magnificence of the kingdom of the World.

Yet I turn from it away to the holy, the mysterious, the ineffable Night. Far off lies the World, sunken in a deep abyss; void and solitary in its place. The chords of the heart thrill with deep melancholy. In dewdrops will I dissolve away and mingle with the ashes… Old memories, aspirations of youth, dreams of childhood, the whole long Life's brief joys and evanescent hopes, come gliding in grey garments, like evening clouds after the sunset. In other realms are outspread the Pavilions of the Light. Should it nevermore return to its childhood, who await it with innocent trust?

What wells up suddenly so ominous in the heart, drowning its vague melancholy? Hast thou also a pleasure for us, O gloomy Night? What bearest thou under thy mantle, that, unseen, powerfully affected my soul? Precious balsam drops from thy hand, out of the clustered poppies. Thou expandest the heavy wings of the Mind. Mysteriously and inexpressibly are we moved: startled with joy I behold a serious Countenance, that bends to me mild and devout; and amongst the endlessly turning locks of the mother dear Youth is revealed. How poor and childish seems to me now the Light! How joyful and blessed the departure of the Day… Is it only, thus, because the Night alienates thy Servitors, that thou sowest the shining spheres throughout the immensity of space, to announce in the period of thine absence thy omnipotence and thy return? More celestial than those glittering stars appear to us the innumerable eyes opened in us by the Night. They see beyond the faintest of those countless hosts; needing not the light they penetrate the depths of a loving mind that fills a loftier space with ineffable bliss. Hail to the World-Queen, the high Prophetess of holier Worlds, the nurse of blissful love! She gives Thee to me, my tender beloved, beautiful Sun of the Night. Now I awake indeed, for I am Thine and Mine: thou hast proclaimed the Night my Life, thou hast made me Man. Consume my flesh with spiritual fire, that I may mingle with thee yet more perfectly, and the bridal-night last for ever.


Must the morning always return? Shall the way of the world never end? Unhappy restlessness exhausts the heavenly influence of the Night. Will the secret sacrifice of Love never eternally burn? Measured was the period of the Light; but timeless and spaceless is the Night's dominion… The time of Sleep is eternity. Holy Sleep! bless thou often the votaries of night in this terrene daywork. Fools alone misprize thee, and are ignorant of any sleep other than that Shadow with which thou dost mercifully invest us in the gloaming of the true Night. They feel thee not in the golden blood of the grape, in the wondrous oil of the almond, in the dusky juice poppy. They know not that it is thou who hoverest round the maiden's bosom, making her heart Heaven; they discern not that out of old legends thou advancest unfolding the gates of Paradise, bearing the key to the habitations for the Blessed, thou silent herald of infinite mysteries.


Once when I wept bitter tears, when hope was dissolved in anguish, and I stood alone on the arid mound which concealed in its strict darkness the Vision of my Life; lonely as never yet was Being lonely, impotent, and Incarnate Thought of misery: then, as I looked around for help, powerless to advance unable to retire, and to the fleeting extinguished life with infinite longing clung: - there came out of the azure distance, from the heights of my old happiness a twilight-tremor, and at once rent the bonds of birth, the fetters of Light. The earthly splendour fled, and with it fled my grief and sorrow flowed away into a new unfathomable world; thou O Night Inspiration, Slumber of Heaven, possessed me: the ground slowly ascended, and above the ground hovered my released and new-born Spirit. The hillock became a cloud of dust through which I discerned the transfigured lineaments of the Beloved. In her eyes dwelt Eternity: I claspt her hands and the tears came as glittering links of union undisseverable. Milleniums passed by like vanishing storms. On her neck I wept the rapturous tears of the New Life… It was my first, my only Vision; and first since then have I everlasting immutable faith in the Heaven of Night, and its glory the Beloved.


Now know I when the last morning shall be; when Light shall never more invade Night and Love; when Slumber shall be eternal, and solely an inexhaustible Vision. I feel a heavenly languor… Long and weary was my pilgrimage to the Holy Grave, pressing the cross. The crystal waves which, invisible to the multitude, well from the gloomy breast of the mound at whose feet breaks the earthly flood: - he who has drunk of these, he who has stood on the Mountain wall of the world, and gazed beyond into the New Realm - the domain of Night; verily he will return no more into the turmoil of the World, into the realm where the light dwells in ever lasting unrest.

Aloft there builds he his dwelling-place, dwelling-place of peace; longs and loves and looks forward till the most welcome of all hours draws him down into the fountain of the Well. The earthly floats above, and is drawn back by storms; but that which Love has touched to consecration runs, released, in hidden channels through the realm beyond, where it mingles airlike with dead loves. Yet dost thou awaken, O swift Light, the weary to toil, imbuing me with joyous life; but thou canst not allure me from the remembrance of mossy monuments. Willingly will I stir the busy hands, and attend to all that thou requirest; celebrate the full splendour of thy glance; unweariedly trace the beautiful interdependence of thy cosmic works; willingly contemplate the living procession of thy mighty and effulgent dial; investigate the harmony of the forces and the rules of the wondrous Drama's immeasurable spaces and cycles. But loyal to the Night remains my secret heart: - to Night and to creative Love the daughter of Night. Canst thou show to me an ever-faithful heart? Hath thy sun friendly eyes which know me? Will thy stars grasp my outstretched hand? will thy reciprocate the tender pressure of the caressing word? Hast thou adorned them with colours and with delicate lineaments. Or was it she who gave to thy adornment a higher and dearer significance? What pleasure, what happiness proffers thy life that can outweigh the ecstacies of Death? Does not all which inspires us wear the hue of Night? She bears thee Mother-like, and to her art thou indebted for all thy glory. Thou hadst vanished of thyself, dissolving away in the infinite space, had she not held thee and swathed thee, so that thou didst grow warm and burningly engender the World. Verily was I before thou wert: the All-Mother sent me with thy fellow-children to people thy World, to sanctify it with Love, that it might become an ever-contemplated memorial; to plant it with imperishable flowers. Still ripen they not, these divine thoughts: still are the signs of manifestations few. Thy Dial must yet show the end of time, when thou shalt be as one of us, and full of yearning and passion shalt consume away. In myself I feel the end of mine activity, heavenly freedom, blissful return! In wild pangs I recognise thy remoteness from our Home, thy opposition to the old glorious Heaven. Thine anger and thy fury are in vain. Inconscionable stands the Cross, a Banner of Victory for our Race.

I journey onwards, and every brier
Is but a spur to my swift desire.
A short time now, and free I rest,
And lie bliss-drunken in Love's own breast.

The life immortal swells mighty in me;
From the realm above I look down to thee.

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image