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“And so, finally, this: A third gift of darkness is a more intimate connection with the natural world. When light falls away and darkness comes on, when killdeer fall silent and the hedgerows begin to breathe, when stars blink on, only Arcturus and Aldebaran at first, then the whole wash of the Milky Way, when the wind stills as the moon rises; then the structure of the built world begins to vanish.

From Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark by Paul Bogard

Could you please help me break down the sentence in bold? Where is the main clause? What is the logical relations among all these clauses?

Edit: As userr2684291's comment indicates, it is when A, when B, when C, D. However, I am confused how "when the wind stills as the moon rises; then the structure of the built world begins to vanish" is connected to "only Arcturus and Aldebaran at first, then the whole wash of the Milky Way". Could you help me please?

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  • The structure of the sentence is "When W, and when X and when Y, then Z.": "{When light falls away and darkness comes on}, {when killdeer fall silent and the hedgerows begin to breathe}, {when stars blink on (only Arcturus [a star] and Aldebaran [a star] at first, then the whole wash of the Milky Way [other stars])}, {when the wind stills as the moon rises}; {then the structure of the built world begins to vanish}." Note that the part about the stars is a parenthesis which has the structure "at first these stars, and then these stars", explaining the order of blinking. Do you get it now? – user3395 Aug 24 '19 at 14:35
  • I think userr2684291's comment was very good. As he explained, the phrase "only Arcturus ... Milky Way" isn't directly attached to the main clause. It is a parenthetical remark adding extra info to "when stars blink on" (the third of the 4 "when" clauses). All 4 "when" clauses have parallel function in the sentence, and each "when" clause is separated from the next by a comma. After all 4 are finished, there is a semi-colon and then the main clause: "then the structure of the built world begins to vanish." The sentence is long & has many parts, but not really as complex as it sounds. – Lorel C. Aug 24 '19 at 23:27
  • Now I get it. :) Well, is the semi-colon correctly used here? I usually see semi-colon used to combine two independent clauses. Here it actually separates the subordinate clauses from the main clause. – luxury20041985 Aug 25 '19 at 0:28
  • I was wondering about that semi-colon too. I have a suspicion that a punctuation maven might nix it for this situation, but I'm no expert. – Lorel C. Aug 25 '19 at 5:19
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This is highly emotive and allusive language.

Each "when" clause says denotatively almost the same thing while conjuring different scenes. Here is a bald and literal paraphrase:

When night falls and it gets dark, when night fall in a rural area, when night falls in a place far from man-made light, then what humans have built cannot be seen.

What it tries to emphasize emotionally is the idea that we are more attune to the natural world in the dark.

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