Shedding Light on "Dawn"

It’s the difference between night and day!

A visitor sent me this question, which I thought may interest readers…

Mr. Casnig,

I googled across your website, The Metaphor Observatory, in search of metaphors that use night and dawn figuratively and literally. I’m doing research and a thesis tentatively on extended metaphors in creative nonfiction but with much research to go I anticipate changing this topic. My starting point is Eli Wiesel’s memoirs Night and Dawn, which have the expected metaphors of death and rebirth. I thought perhaps with the war there may be some contempory and public metaphors of such. Do you have any sitings or research or sticky notes that pertain to the metaphors of night and dawn? If so, I would really appreciate if you could share those with me or even post them on your website.

Thank you,
A. F.

Hi A.F.,

My apologies for the slow and garbled reply. I hoped to be feeling better before writing this.

This war has brought relatively little in the way of night/dawn metaphors (at least that I’ve seen). Bush’s tidy “roadmap” approach was tossed to the gutter and replaced with a seemingly disjointed rhetoric, which may have inadvertently weakened public support for the war. “Cut and run” is currently poised against “Adapt and win!” for popular support, though the use of the word “win” is waning in believability.

[The following paragraphs are a compilation of material surrounding night/dawn/light/sunset metaphors, and their synonymous metaphors. To find contemporary metaphors about old concepts such as night and dawn, one needs to find a change of force - in this case technology.]

  • My instincts tell me that you’ll hit paydirt by broadening the view of night=death into night=death, darkness, ignorance, doubt and fear. Further, that you broaden dawn=rebirth to account for any form of new light. Then dawn comes to include learning (“It dawned on me“, “Dawn of Reason“, “Dawn of Understanding“) and light itself includes wisdom or truth (“Light of Truth“) or hope (“See the light at the end of the tunnel“, “See the light of day“). While dawn may imply rebirth or resurrection, it may also imply a complete revision (“Dawn of a New Era“) or even a first-time occurrence (“Dawn of Civilization“). [I will note that at one time, the beginning of the day was sunset, which poses that the day never dies].
  • The 23rd Psalm places darkness, lowness, death, fear and evil in close conceptual proximity (“…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil“). We hold deep, dark, dirty secrets against generousity, enlightenment and higher learning (Revelations). When we feel low, or heavy hearted, we are in a dark mood, dwelling on heavy things – even placing ourselves in dark settings. Compare this to being in high spirits – upbeat, beaming and lighthearted.
  • The metaphors night/dawn = ignorance/learning make for the lateral equation death=infertility=inability to grow (“dead soil“, “desert“, “wasteland“, “wasted space“); compare this with “fertile young minds“. “Bubble-headed“, “empty-minded” or “vacuous” are all allusions to ignorance=emptiness. One can demonstrate that ignorance is related to emptiness by looking at the “space” available on your computer before and after adding data or a new program (“My brain is full!“).
  • The long-standing metaphoric association of night with evil or ignorance may be scheduled for slow-mo demolition – the dark of night now little more than a rarely chosen option. With the advent of gas and electric light came overabundant streetlights and shiftworking – both guilty of eroding the calendar and clock as conceptual benchmarks. Where night and dawn metaphors once found themselves primarily trapped in either good/evil or ignorance/wisdom settings, we may find a gradual drift of usage towards leisure/work or romance/practicality (“I love the nightlife…” implies a positive tone towards that which hangs out in the dark). Support is currently dimming for “daylight saving time”, a practice made impractical by the lightbulb. Our natural circadian rhythm is trashed by electric light, which you’ve probably noticed when camping, as you tend to go to bed much, much earlier. Though fires in various forms had provided us with nightlights for untold millenia (Britain: flashlight=”torch”), there is no comparison to the wakening/harbour effect of the flourescent bulbs in a 24-hour supermarket. Stars are now difficult to see in big cities due to nightly “light pollution“. We need no ritual, task nor celebration to turn night into day.
  • Meanwhile, other technological changes have more generally desynchronized society and the clock. “Time shifting“, via cable or satellite, allows one to watch network shows later rebroadcast in other timezones. We also use VCRs or TiVos to time shift by recording a given broadcast and playing it at our leisure. By replaying these recordings, we are virtually stuttering time, layering one version of the past on new versions of the present, repeatedly. Such options allow us to reconstruct the concept of time and schedules – the feature “VCR Plus” completely erases the need to think in terms of channels, times and dates, addressing time itself on a nickname basis. The workplace has introduced flextime (aka: flexitime), where one chooses the hours they work – and by the metaphor flex, the implication is that time is being conceptualized as a pliable solid.

I hope this helps,


Mi lío es tu lío: Here are a few additional bits from my sticky notes, all of which fit somewhere in the above paragraphs.

  • “It’s cold and lonely in the deep, dark night…” (Meatloaf)
  • “Of all the low down, sneaky, dirty tricks!”
  • The description of the serpent in Genesis.
  • “Shed some light on the issue.”
  • Deep thoughts. [Faith is often "strong" or "weak", while thoughts are "light", "deep" or "heavy".]
  • Sober=heavy=deep, which does not equal spirituous, Utopian or ideal: does this imply that the pursuit of knowledge suffers gravity, while the pursuit of faith defies gravity?
  • High ideals.
  • Burden of guilt.
  • Uplifting.
  • Is primetime television a tribal sunset fire?
  • Break of dawn.
  • Birth of a new day.
  • Born-again Christians: “I saw the light!”, “The truth set me free!”
  • Morning has broken.
  • Look on the bright side.

3 Responses to “Shedding Light on "Dawn"”

  1. Zazzy writes:

    As I was reading this my own thoughts ran along the path that Dawn is an event, Night is a condition.

    Dawn is moving forward, it’s hope, it’s the light of sunrise breaking the long, dark, hopelessness of night. Night is more than physical darkness, it’s more than ignorance. Night is fear whispering to you. Night is anxiety, waiting.

    Night is sometimes comfort. It’s a place to hide. Darkness wrapped around you like an old, comfortable blanket. Dawn brings light, awareness, a need to act that is sometimes unwelcome.

  2. J. D. Casnig writes:

    Good points, Zazzy!

    Dawn straddles the conditions of darkness and light, representing an opening or a change for the better, while sunset straddles the the same conditions in reverse, representing a close or change for the worse.

    The popular metaphors aside, those suffering depression seem to crave that hopelessness of night, creating it with sunglasses or sad music. For them, sunset is a relief from the pain of exposure to good things.

    “And I don’t want the world to see me, I just dont think that they’d understand. When everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.”
    Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls

    “I have become comfortably numb.”
    Comfortably Numb, by Pink Floyd

    “And I’d hide under blankets – or did I run away? I really can’t remember the last time I saw the light of day.”
    Scream Like a Baby, by David Bowie

  3. Anonymous writes:

    I’m working on my diploma in English. My diplowa work is about metaphors of light and darkness from the Biblein a modern word. Have you got any idea about some examples of metafors from Bible which are use by teenagers in a normal life ???

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