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Here's the poem, i've been discussing the meaning with friends.

Good-night? ah! no; the hour is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood —
Then it will be--good night.

To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light,
The night is good; because, my love,
They never say good-night.

the line though thy sweet wishes wing its flight? what do you think is the meaning and reference of the verb "wing" here? I thought at first that she wished the lone night to come, to speed up the approach of it, because she said good night in the first place, Shelley rejects this separation and explains that how a night can be good instead. but wing also has another meaning which is to shoot down a bird from its wings. so, if this nights is lone and bad her wishes might want to shoot the approaching night and slow it down. but this second meaning concludes that she wants to stay together, which i do not think is true for this context. poet clearly heard her say goodnight and responded with this poem. anyway, this is my thought, what do you think about this verb? i think its the key to this poem.

  • Wings propel the bird forward as it flies. Those sweet wishes of good night say "It's time for us to part, my friend". The wishes send him out and away. They provide the impetus for his departure. In that sense, they are to his departure as wings are to a bird's flight. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 0:20
  • So she by saying goodnight wishes him to be away. And shelley even though she wishes him away calls this sweet. This is understandable. But by "it" does the poet mean the lone night, that will fly away, or approach. im confused about the direction of the flight that is winged by the sweet wishes of her. – Mrko May 21 '18 at 0:37
  • it is so-called "dummy it" and refers to existential status. You can paraphrase that line as "Under those conditions we could say the night was good" or "under those conditions the night could properly be called good". – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 10:36
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First, the phrase itself. For something to "wing its flight" means more or less to "send it on its flight". I see this wording as a number of steps removed from everyday prose:

  1. To make your way somewhere: To go somewhere.
  2. To verb your way somewhere: To go somewhere by verbing. For example, "to crawl your way across the room" → "to go across the room by crawling".
  3. To wing your way somewhere: The same structure but poetic, because of the relative rarity of "to wing" as a verb.
  4. To wing your flight: A poetic modification of the above, probably chosen for the sake of the rhyme. Of course, it makes sense that if you're winging, it's not just a way, it's a flight. This wouldn't trip up native speakers.
  5. To wing something else's flight: Whereas this does make a native speaker pause! Here the wishes wing the lone night's flight. I suppose they mean they cause it to wing its flight, i.e. fly.

Now let's use that knowledge to understand the passage:

How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?

Here it is in plain English:

I can't say the night alone is good, even though it was your sweet wishes (of "good night") that sent it (the night) on its way (towards me).

Note that in the next passage, "it" changes referent more than once:

Be it not said, thought, understood —
Then it will be — good night.

Again in plain English:

As long as it (the phrase "good night") is not said, thought, or heard, then it (the night) will be a good night.

This clever play on words is somewhat hard to untangle but I hope you find it rewarding. :)

  • thanks! then it is just as i understood the first time. it uses the first meaning of winging, the flying away. the other archaic usage was to hurt someones wings. but how could she hurt the lone nights flight if she were the one who said goodnight right? – Mrko May 21 '18 at 9:56
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    "The lone night" is an example of "pathetic fallacy". – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 21 '18 at 10:34
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    @Mrko Right. Her wish speeds the lone night along, heralding it coming, bringing it here. – Luke Sawczak May 21 '18 at 12:35
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The transitive verb to wing means "to be the wings of" {direct object}.

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