1) Structure According to its structure, the poem is a sonnet. It may be formally divided into three quatrains and a distich, so that it resembles a Shakespearean sonnet. However, Renaissance sonnets were traditionally written in 5 feet iamb, while the Twilight is written in tetrameter. If Byron did draw from that tradition, he must have taken into consideration the sonnet 145, which is the only one to have a 4 feet meter. Those lips that Love’s own hand did make, Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’, To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state, Straight in her heart did mercy come,Chiding that tongue that ever sweet Was used in giving gentle doom; And taught it thus anew to greet; ‘I hate’ she altered with an end, That followed it as gentle day, Doth follow night, who like a fiend From heaven to hell is flown away. ‘I hate’, from hate away she threw, And saved my life, saying ‘not you’. Not taking into account the debates about this sonnet, we state that it has to do with lovers’ vows, which have an unstable nature. It also makes use of the images of day and night, where day is seen as bliss for the lover, and night as a time of misery, a popular Renaissance custom.
However, the Twilight’s structure is more complicated than that. Indeed, the first quatrain is easily distinguished by its rhyming, which is completely different from the other lines. It may even be suggested, that the actions in this quatrain happen some time before the events of all other lines and in another place. It is the hour, when from the boughs The nightingale’s high note is heard, It is the hour, when lovers’ vows Seem sweet with every whispered word. The introductory quatrain is positioned like a riddle, asking the reader to name the hour which the poet speaks about.
It is full-blooded with an alternating rhyme which binds the lines together and a complete phonetic set of alliterating sounds, where pairs of sonorants are interchanged with pairs of fricatives. It is rather formalistic, having the traditional rhyme and the proper syntactic structure. We must also notice that the parallel images in these lines are both acoustic ones. The next nine lines may be defined as enumeration. They list the events in nature which accompany the mysterious hour, thus giving us some hints as to the answer. They may be further divided into groups of three:
And gentle winds, and waters near Make music to the lonely ear, Each flower the dews have lightly wet Two lines with alliterating sonorants, then one line with no alliteration, the images are in the process of changing from acoustic (make music) to visual (the dews have lightly wet), two verbs. And in the sky the stars are met, And on the wave is deeper blue, And on the leaf a browner hue Three short parallel lines, images are visual, verbs are in the process of disappearing (are met – two words – then is – one word – then no verbs at all), so as to make not to break the description by actions.
And in the heaven that clear obscure, So softly dark, and darkly pure, Which follows the decline of day Inverted copy of lines 4-7: the lines again get seemingly longer, and again there are one line without alliteration and two lines with alliteration – this time it is of plosives, a verb (follow) and a verbal noun (decline) appear. The last line is suddenly pentameter, and due to its additional length it may be pronounced with either the slowliness or the rushness of surprise. In any case, it is a conclusion. We finally get the mysterious hour named, and in the same line it vanishes away.
2) Motives The Twilight is seemingly a poem about nature, which pictures the harmony of an evening landscape. Yet, some images are rather too persistent to allow this reading. Let us follow the alliteration. Reading the first quatrain, we find that sonorants express the theme of reciprocated and happy love (nightingale – the bird of love, its note, the whispered words, which appeal so much to the lyrical hero). The fricatives must refer to the notion of question which is being asked in these lines. Indeed, one may ask, why do the lovers’ vows only seem sweet?
Are they really sweet or are they hurting the hero? This is what the hero himself seems doubtful about. So, the hero has received a vow, maybe a promise of an assignation, from his lover, which has left him thinking. He has now just left the lover, so everything around him still bears the signs of his happiness at seeing the person (winds, waters, make, music – the labials again have the gentle nature). The remembrances of being together soothe his now lonely ear. However, it is getting darker, and the lover does not appear.
The hero begins to feel doubtful, which is indicated by the fricatives (sky, stars). Sounds, which accompanied his thoughts about the bliss of love (nightingale’s note, or music), now disappear, leaving the place to the stillness of visual images that increases the feeling of doubt and loneliness. It gets darker (a deeper blue, a browner hue) both in the nature and in the hero’s heart. The hero’s doubts are symbolically shown by the oxymoron clear obscure. The oxymoron in itself is an effort to connect two unconnectable notions, so it is well suited to show the double nature of the hero’s thoughts.
The ambiguity is emphasized by the fact, that we cannot be sure which of the two words is the noun and which one is the adjective. Lastly, the words themselves are meaningful: the feeling of the lover to the hero is either clear and evident or obscure and exists only seemingly; the reason behind the hero’s waiting is clear – he waits for his lover, – and yet it is obscure as the lover does not come; or the hero’s mind is in turn clear with his love and obscured by his dark thoughts.
Now the plosives appear. Their abundance sounds so harsh and unwelcoming, that we must understand that the hero’s broodings have reached their heaviest. He continues to meditate on the oxymoronic nature of his lover and of their love: it is at the same time soft (=sweet, gentle) and dark (vicious and hurtful), dark and pure (which may imply that he longs for physical contact with his lover, but cannot experience it because the person is absent). All these doubts come directly after the decline of day.
Here at last we may be able to understand the reason of the hero’s state. The word decline must be read in the meaning of refusal, which the hero has received during the day. Of course, the proper noun is declination, but Byron has just showed us with the clear obscure that one can never be exact about the parts of speech. The day here is not the day of the Renaissance poets. Byron’s poetry is characterized by assuming night as a perfect time for making love and day as the time when all love must stop.
In the context of the Twilight it may be proved by the fact that the word ‘night’ starts with a gentle sonorant and alliterates with nightingale and note. So, during the day the hero received a message with a double meaning (possibly, like the Shakespeare’s lady, his lover said to him the ambiguous “I hate – not you”), and now he is anxious to know if his lover will come at night and reduce all the troubles of the day to nothing or if the message will prove to be hurtful and the lover will not come. The second part of the sonnet ends with line 13, tearing the rhyme in two.
The half-rhyme is thrown forward like a hook for the lover to grasp. The hero comes to an abrupt stop in his meditations. At last the mood changes. Probably the hero sees his lover coming. He receives his answer, and it is a positive one. The twilight of his doubts vanishes, and the gentle sonorants again make their appearance (melt, moon, away). On the whole, although the images of nature are overall used to illustrate the hero’s feelings and correspond to his mood, the Twilight is not only a landscape poem. It tells us a story of love and of a lover’s fears.