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Night, from "Stand by Me," a song sung by Ben E. King

Subthemes: Astronomy, The Changing Length of Days, Darkness, Despair and Death

Stand by Me, sung by Ben E. King, starts with the darkness of night as the metaphor for difficult times in life (much like the start of Invictus). But if you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the one you love, even the fearsome dark won’t frighten you. Here is the song. Other subthemes of Night brighten this rock song hit.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

So darlin', darlin', stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

[two refrains omitted]

Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me
Oh stand by me, won’t you stand by

Writer/s: Ben King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Astronomy: Almost biblically, Ben E. King starts his song with the sun fallen below the horizon:

When the night has come
And the land is dark

Why does the night settle upon us? Night falls because the Earth rotates toward the east, and quickly. In the northern U.S. or Canada, for example, it moves approximately 700 miles an hour thanks to Earth’s spin. The dawn appears first in the east and slips away in the west, as the spinning Earth blocks its rays, ushering in night. Stars glimmer above, constellations adorn the heavens, meteors shoot across, [a]nd the moon is the only light we’ll see. For those who live in the temperate climes, the sun is pie-in-the-sky overhead at noon, the moment when the apparent uppermost ray of the Sun reaches what is called the astronomical horizon. If it is the first ray, it is sunrise and if it is the last ray, it is sunset. Both sunsets and sunrises can be stunning. They embellish metaphors of the start of a new day, new opportunities, improved fortunes. Or, the end of labor, a time to rest and enjoy family, perhaps in a motel.

The Changing Length of Days: Stand by Me applies to all seasons and times, but “night” can vary depending on when you measure it. Total minutes of sunshine increase (in the warming months of the northern Hemisphere) by close to 2 minutes and 8 seconds per day and decrease by the same as the weather cools. Under current federal law, daylight saving time begins on the second Sunday in March, and ends on the first Sunday in November. Switching our clocks to Daylight Saving Time during the brighter months is a carryover from agricultural times, but that annual rite may disappear. Aside from clocks, the winter solstice marks the official start of winter in the northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day and the longest night. The solstice can occur anywhere between Dec. 20-23 and marks the minute the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn and, counter-intuitively, happens when earth orbits closest to the sun. [The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.” Once the sun’s path reaches its southernmost position, as it starts to return north, it gives the appearance of standing still.]

Darkness. Despair and Death: For many people, the end of their lifetime looms as eternal darkness, the night that never ends – without light and without life for eternity. That equation of ultimate dark and dread lurks deep in our psyches, and is hard to deal with even if we are captains of our souls. Throughout everyone’s life that leads to quietus, nighttime has been dreaded as the worst time for medical ills. Pain throbs more in the night, we may cough more, or suffer from discomforts. Physical changes take place such as drying out, coughing, or post-nasal drip. Anxious worries oppress us and keep us awake, the moan of wind or drive of rain magnifies, or compulsions drive people to bizarre behavior in the dark, such as peeping toms. The primal reaction to being unable to see what is happening around us grips us all. Limitations on visibility as to the future, physical decline inside, or inabilities to deal with disturbing images in the recesses of our minds – darkness, despair and death often travel together.

 

Lovers are emboldened when they are with each other, if all around them looms the unseeable and unknowable. An antidote to the fears and symptoms bred by darkness is standing close together and supporting each other. The night – emblematic of the troubles of life – comes regularly so a compatriot helps us make it through.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept of Night, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other rock songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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