Morning Land and Evening Land

by Terence MacNamee

We talk about the East and the West, the Orient and the Occident. We forget the images or metaphors that are enshrined in those words. The Orient is the land of the rising sun, the Occident is the land of the setting sun. This is of course the way Europeans see the world. For them, the sun seems to come out of Asia, and it seems to go down into the ocean on the other side of them.

It all depends on where you stand, of course. The Japanese like to call their country the Land of the Rising Sun, because they are the first in Asia to see the sun rising out of the Pacific due east of them. And it is only natural that they would use a phrase like the Setting Sun to refer to something sad or catastrophic, namely Japan’s war dead.

German calls the Orient das Morgenland, namely the Morning Land. It sounds fresh and optimistic, and it is. Hermann Hesse often wrote about Morgenlandfahrer or journeyers to the Morning Land, meaning Europeans going to the East in search of new spiritual wisdom. German similarly refers to the West as das Abendland, the Evening Land. There is always a potential for sadness in that metaphor. Amid the appalling destruction of the last war, another German poet, Hans Carossa, wrote an elegy beginning with the words: “Has evening come over us, o Evening Land?”

Of course, the last war only meant the temporary destruction of Germany and of Japan. Both of them rebuilt from the ashes. Meanwhile Europe recovered, gave up the idea of nation against nation, and became as prosperous as it had ever been. But two world wars had fatally weakened it, and the leadership of the Western world passed to America. Europe had become “Evening Land” after all.

There is a special poignancy about the metaphors now, when the West as a whole is gradually being eclipsed by the East on the world stage. Europe and America are more and more “Evening Land”  – one might even be tempted to say “the Setting Sun”.