Collecting The Night


I want to capture every version of the night known to man. I want to listen to the infinite versions of crickets chirping or cars growling. I want to see every type of glowing light and swallowing darkness people have ever seen. I want to sweep the uncountable number of perspectives ever viewed into a jar to pour into my hand and breathe in. But unfortunately, I can’t. So I make do with what I can. I take my perspective and drink in as much of it as I can at one go as I sit on my grandparents’ balcony to dispel stress. I read poems and listen to people talk about what they see when they talk about the darkness that envelopes the earth as our globe turns. 

When I go to my grandparents’ balcony, my perspective of the night is ever-changing. Tonight, the air feels still yet somehow moving. I sweep my arms through it and it’s almost as if nothing happens, yet it never gets stale, somehow consistently cool. I think this is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the peaceful stillness of the night in ‘Shields, On The River Tyne’ by J.M.W. Turner, despite the roaring crackles of fires and loud chattering of people. The perspective of a night along a river by a tireless, private painter thirsty to see the world upon the end of the Napoleonic wars that I will never fully understand. I simply have to make do with his beautiful paintings of his night and my own scraps of experience. 

On the balcony, the sound of vehicles from the main road far away, occasionally punctured by the wails of obnoxious motorcycles, blend into smooth, lively background noise. I get to hear a short clip of a frantic ambulance before it darts away. The chaos melts into a form of familiarity, perhaps a little reminiscent of my mother’s version of the night on the step-up balcony above mine. However, rather than entering the night on our platforms for solitude  and peace like me, she goes up there for a purpose. To garden.

“It’s a busy time for me,” she says. “I feel energised and productive. I am the mistress of my domain. I work to change the conditions so my plants can thrive”. My mother’s night viewed  from a balcony right above mine is somehow miles apart from my own peaceful encounters with the darkness. She speaks of power and purpose-filled actions, a symphony of movement fueled by need. 

“When I think of the night, I think of glowing lights, cool air, the light from the living room  behind me. The sound of watering plants and spraying fertilisers, the snipping on leaves and  the rigorous motions of checking on plants.” A darkness filled with so much action and chaos that somehow blends together like smooth, waning colours on a canvas. I want to capture  this experience, to feel the power of the night thrumming through me, but unfortunately my mother and I will never be the same person, and so the closest thing I can have right now is the  ceaseless gurgles and growls of cars that slowly smear together into background noise. I try to bottle her version of the night, but how can you bottle pure energy? I simply have to make do with what she tells me, try to understand it to my best ability. I am simply human; there are other perspectives to collect. 

Rays of light gently glide across the metal bars at the edge of the balcony, shy and nervous.  Its uneven textured bands of warmth are almost like a weakened imitation of the  swirling lights of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Shy, hopeful, innocent waves of light are like the junior to the brilliant sight of glowing strokes of stars and a welcoming village created out of Van Gogh’s imagination. However this is as far as the similarities go, the light running off metal rails departing from the stunning view from Van Gogh’s room in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum. The glow from my balcony is young and quiet, a far cry from the confident yet homely village he paints out of imagination. 

     I’d love to understand his perspective, to be able to see through the eyes of a painter who flickered between calmness and despair, who tried to suppress his excitement in his  paintings for fear of losing his touch on reality. Of course, I’d never actually want to live a life like his, and I am grateful that I don’t. I decide that perhaps this isn’t a perspective I can procure without suffering the consequences of being able to see through such abstract eyes. And even then, I can’t ever capture the perspective of a dead man. I simply have to make do with the art he has left behind, which already tells so much about how he saw the world. 

     But as much as I wish to bottle and capture everyone’s perspective, there is one sliver of  mine I wouldn’t trade for any other view of the night: the comfort. Towards the right side of  the balcony, the barriers suddenly go from thin metal bars to towering angled 2-inch-wide panels.They block out most light in a smooth sheet of darkness, occasionally reflecting a panel of luminescence in a short flash before returning back to its imposingly dark form. I suppose many people would find this intimidating a tall, looming darkness threatening to wrap around you and seal off all light. I’ve always found comfort in the darkness.  

I sit at a corner surrounded by these panels, feeling the coolness of the metal against my palms and back as I pull my knees up to my chest. It feels somewhat like a gentle, welcoming hug, slowly enveloping itself around me in a tide of comfort. This embrace of shadows is my favourite part of the night, the part where I can be free. The part where I can do what I want with no one to judge me. A piece of the night that is always there as long as this balcony is. So maybe I want to capture every perspective and be able to see through every one, but I live with nothing but mine and whatever people can leave behind for me and the rest of humanity to understand. Part of it is due to the impossibility of being able to capture every viewpoint that has ever existed, and part of it is because there are certain things about mine that I would never want to give up. Regardless, all I have is my view on the world, and I can learn to be happy with that. In fact, you could say I already am.

Sophia Lee, Class of 2023, has been crafting stories since she was a child who pretended she could write for coolness’ sake. Having progressed greatly from drawing loops on paper and declaring them sentences, she is currently fascinated by unlikeable, yet human, characters.