I have always thought that there is nothing very remarkable about afternoons. Poets write about dawn, about dusk, about starry nights but rarely will you find an entire eulogy dedicated to an afternoon.
Afternoon is regarded as one long, nondescript chunk of time between noon and night in the English language occasionally feebly divided up by such epithets as late afternoon or early afternoon as though there is little sense in dividing up a time that’s already so bereft of uniqueness in the English-speaking world. Afternoon merely joins the morning with the night hanging in there like a modest conjunction in between two far more interesting parts of speech strung together into a day.
Afternoon has a more prominent place in some languages such as in my native Bengali where the latter part of afternoon, bikel, describes a time when the strong afternoon sun gives way to a softer daylight before dusk or twilight. The breeze is cool then on hot summer days. It is the best part of the day when work is over and kids come out to play cricket or soccer and everyone gets respite from the burning tropical heat. That’s my idyllic picture of bikel, at least in my mind. Still, I think many more songs and poems exist in praise of dawn than bikel that I can remember even in Bengali.
When morning comes after a dark night it is a time of hope for many. Dawn heralds change. Dawn makes things seem possible. For night owls, dawn heralds the completion of the previous night and perhaps a time of rest.
Night, on the other hand, signifies peace. It is a relief from the humdrum day. For those who have felt productive and successful, it signifies a time when they can bask in the glory of the day. For those who have failed, it is a time of compromise, when things are at rest anyway, a time of acceptance of defeat, a time when oblivion is about to approach in the form of sleep, a time of retreat, of privacy, of conclusion.
It is a time of closure for many.
Not so the afternoon. Afternoon isn’t different enough from morning to warrant even a few lines of rhyme from poets nor exciting or depressing enough to merit melancholy or disdain. It is too drab to symbolize your state of mind, too mundane to stand as an analogy for the beauty of your beloved, too nondescript for contemplation or classy romance.
Imagine if Byron’s poem had read
She walks in beauty, like the afternoon
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
But afternoon is gaudy. Afternoon is uninspiring. Afternoon is drab. At best it can stand in for a state of drowsiness, of waiting, of an empty state of mind.
Perhaps so it is with life.
Children at the dawn of life are interesting even while they babble. Their misuse of idioms, their mastery of new words, their curiosity about things, their imitation of adults is endearing.
The old too, in the evening of life, often seem at peace. Perhaps that which was to be done is done or perhaps what’s done cannot be undone. Either way, most of the story is told.
It is those in the middle in the afternoon of life that continue on, realizing while they strive that between the idea of life and the reality of it falls the shadow. All the sound and the fury signifies little for many beyond just moving on.
Some days our keyboards are quiet and nothing emerges except the most mundane of descriptions.
A day such as this one apt for describing this weekday afternoon.