Thoughts at Dawn

Simon Coleman

dawn light

There are many references to the magic of the dawn in Jefferies’ writings. In the following passage, from an untitled manuscript unpublished during his lifetime*, his desire for a life filled with beauty and expanded knowledge returns with every dawn. The ‘upheld finger of light’ brings with it a clear and direct message: existence contains infinite possibilities. The dawn rays emerge from the unknown depths of space, never ceasing to bring daylight to the earth. Light has no limit. It comes as a guide to Jefferies, pointing a way through the darkness of human ignorance and the miasma of petty circumstances. Characteristically, he wonders about the possibilities beyond light: the things that might be hidden from scientific inquiry.

The goddess of dawn features regularly in Jefferies’ favourite book, Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. When he came to write an Odyssey of his own, the strange futuristic novel ‘After London’, he named his heroine ‘Aurora’, the Roman name for dawn.
(* The work shows similarities to a passage in ‘The Story of My Heart’ and to an essay titled ‘The Dawn’.)

“Dawn causes a desire for larger thought. The recognition of the light at the moment of awaking kindles afresh the wish for a broad day of the mind. The certainty that there are yet ideas further and more great, that there are things yet more beautiful, that there is still the limitless something beyond urges a stronger search. This dim white light tells of so much that must sometime be. So many many songs in the wood that the birds will presently sing; so many flowers that will open! Music for the mind yet unheard, and loveliness undreamed of! Up to this hour a mere nothing has been known, a mere nothing enjoyed. But the dawn speaks of an expanse from which endless songs and flowers may still be drawn. This dim white light is like a crevice which admits a beam into a cave and leads the wanderer from the dark catacomb to the open air and heavens. As infinite as that sky are the possibilities of the morning.

A river runs itself clear during the night, and in sleep the thought becomes pellucid. All the hurrying to and fro, the unrest and stress, the agitation and confusion subside. Like a sweet spring thought pours forth to meet the light and is illumined to its utmost depth. I know that there is no limit to the things that may be yet in material and tangible shape besides those immaterial imaginings and perceptions which are the very dew of the soul. I know it: I am certain and assured: the dim white light speaks it. This prophet which has come with its miracle every morn so many thousands of years faces me once again with the upheld finger of light. Where is the limit to that sign? From the hills it has come to my room: from the far sea it has come to the hills: from the azure sky to the sea: from the illimitable space to the sky. How much farther backwards shall be traced it? This is only to me. To every blade of grass, to every leaf, to the tiniest insect, to the million waves of ocean, to all earth, it comes. But this still is all only an atom in the majesty of the profound: our vast earth a mote in that sunbeam by which we are conscious of one narrow streak in the abyss. A beam crosses a silent chamber from the window, or aslant between the fixtures, and in it a thousand particles are visible, while the air each side is blank. Through the heavens a beam falls and we are aware of the star-stratum in which our earth moves. But what may be without that star-stratum? To the strongest instrument it is a blank: but be certain it is not a void. This light tells us much, but I think in the course of time still more delicate and subtle mediums will be found to exist, and through these we shall see into the shadows of the sky.”