Twilight. The seeping of day into night. Flux made manifest. A liminal state, a period of transformation, optical and psychological. As light fades, our eyes play tricks on us, inventing horizons, altering distances, shrouding landmarks. We become more obscure to ourselves as well. Soon we are diner, dancer, lover. But in this moment, the night is not so much young as hardly begun.
There’s palpable tension in this transition between our day and night selves. In Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov’s doomed character Albinus experiences it on a visit to his mistress. “Lights were being put on, and their soft orange glow looked very lovely in the pale dusk. The sky was still quite blue, with a single salmon coloured cloud in the distance, and all this unsteady balance between light and dusk made Albinus feel giddy.”
For lost souls, the magic hour passes unobserved, pre empted by the explicit reds of sunset; or its nuances eclipsed by the acid glow of streetlights. F Scott Fitzgerald beautifully captures the melancholy of fading day in The Great Gatsby when his narrator Nick Carraway observes, “At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others – poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner – young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”
The subtle apostrophe-free lavender blue of twilight deserves to be the scene snatcher. Even the words associated with it are seductive: crepuscular, gloaming, penumbra. Little wonder the Romantics – Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth – were obsessed about fixing twilight as a poetic shortcut to existential meditations. “The violet hour” as TS Eliot writes in The Waste Land is “when the eyes and back turn upward from the desk”. Just dwell on yet more literary episodes imbued with meaning: Mrs Dalloway kissing Sally Seton on the terrace, Mrs Moore’s moment of transcendence in A Passage to India, Marlow’s mistruth about Kurtz’s last words in Heart of Darkness. Not to mention the hotbed of nefarious doings at twilight in gothic novels, from Dracula to Frankenstein.
Twilight. The time when the power of reason wanes and fantasy weaves its own tales. Full of frisson, danger, desire. Moral and social strictures loosen as the first stars appear. Under the diffusion of mauve light there is heightened sensitivity to the promise of life; anything is possible in this magic hour. Grasp it, for the intensity is almost tangible; feel it, before going forth into the night, both derivative and original, living in the present yet loving the past.