The Darkest Hour

It’s oft quoted, and it sounds like it might be from the Bible, or from Shakespeare, but the attribution for recording to print that ‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn’ falls to the English theologian and historian, Thomas Fuller.  He wrote it in 1650, in language that is somewhat more archaic than what we would use today: ‘It is always darkest just before the day dawneth.’  I get it, and largely I agree with him: a new day can bring hope and renewal, can sluice away doubts and shrink worries. But what about when the light doesn’t come?  What about these last few days in Edinburgh, when the day seems not to dawneth at all? Instead mornings are plated as servings of cold porridge in damp, colourless, dreich days; days that wrap us in something akin to the unappealing, old, washed-out, smelly blanket that lies at the bottom of the dog’s basket.  This is the sort of weather where the coming of dawn doesn’t save you; it tests you.  It pushes you to draw on vats of endurance – endurance that I had mothballed and pushed away into long-term storage.

Before I head off to unwrap the box labelled ‘endurance’, I catch myself, remind myself that this is only the start of the winter and if I set out with an endurance mind-set then endure I will, but if I set out with an enjoy mind-set, then maybe I’ll enjoy some of it and more easily endure the darkness.  After all, there is a unique quality to the light of a late sunrise, even on a leaden day. At around 7.45am everything begins to glow in a half-promise: the grass is luminous, and the wet stone of my tenement grows a lustre that never shows in summer, and the very last leaves that hang onto the silver birch are so few that I can count them, thirteen.  The bark of the birch is the ivory of a fine bone china, and the cabbages in the raised bed are blue.  By 8.30am the half-promise has been snatched away, and an apologetic pallor makes for a sickly day, but the glimmer of the dawn lit beauty was enough with which to start the day.

Back-to-back volcanic eruptions in the mid-6thcentury (536 and 540) darkened Europe’s skies for more than a year.  Clouds of smoke and ash obliterated the sun, lowering temperatures by two degrees Celsius, devastating agriculture and triggering famine throughout much of Europe and beyond.  Now those really weredark days.  Those were days to endure.  I’ll think of that when I pull the curtains tonight on the last of the veiled light and turn on the lamps and play music and cook and write to friends and wonder what tomorrow’s winter dawn will look like.

6 a.m. Thoughts, by Dick Davis

As soon as you wake they come blundering in

Like puppies or importunate children;

What was landscape emerging from mist

Becomes at once a disordered garden.


And the mess they trail with them! Embarrassments,

Anger, lust, fear – in fact the whole pig-pen;

And who’ll clean it up? No hope for sleep now –

Just heave yourself out, make the tea and give in.

3 thoughts on “The Darkest Hour

  1. Seriously — you just keep getting better and better! The imagery and word-pictures you weave in this post are stunning. Your world may be under a cloud, my friend, but your ability to find beauty in it and share it with the rest of us is not. Keep shining, girl.


  2. I first heard that expression ‘the darkest hour is just before dawn’ from an elderly uncle who was recalling working on the building of a railway somewhere on the east coast of the US. He was away from Ireland, missing family, rising early for backbreaking work, and that was all conveyed in his tone of voice. For a moment he brought the darkness back.


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