In The Company Of The Sun

Has anyone ever felt lonely while lying in the sun? I never have, and the lyrics of O Sole Mio confirm the idea.

Picture edited from ARCHIsavio di Wikipedia in italiano / CC BY-SA

Has anyone ever felt lonely while lying in the sun? I never have, and the lyrics of O Sole Mio confirm the idea

Quanno fa notte e ‘o sole se ne scenne,
me vene quase ‘na malincunia;
sotto ‘a fenesta toia restarria
quanno fa notte e ‘o sole se ne scenne.
When night comes and the sun has gone down,
I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.

Has anyone ever felt lonely while lying in the sun? I never have, and I cannot think of any literary or cinematic instance of such a sentiment. The lyrics of the Neapolitan masterpiece, O Sole Mio, a part of which I have quoted above, confirm the idea, if by counterexample. If the protagonist of the song feels blue when the sun goes down, and then happy when he thinks of the woman with whom he is in love, then it seems right that the presence of the sun prevents these feelings of loss and longing while it is shining, or it at least ameliorates them. This idea is supported by what are the second most recognizable lines in the song:

Ma n’atu sole
cchiù bello, oje ne’.
O sole mio
sta ‘nfronte a te!
O sole
O sole mio
sta ‘nfronte a te!
sta ‘nfronte a te!
But another sun,
that’s brighter still
It’s my own sun
that’s in your face!
The sun, my own sun
It’s in your face!
It’s in your face!

Thinking back on my personal experience, and now fresh out of a sunbathing session, I cannot think of a time when I ever felt lonely or heartbroken while lying in the sun, even if external circumstances would have otherwise prompted such a disposition. Is this what the singer of O Sole Mio is singing about? Is the song an homage to the sun? Is it a love song to a woman? Is it both? I suppose by posing such questions I am breaking my own rule, actually Archibald MacLeish’s rule that, as he put it in Ars Poetica: A poem should not mean/But be.

But back to this idea of the sun keeping you company. Could the stars keep you company at night? I suppose. This is at least a claim of those who live the life of a hobo, to use an English word that has long gone out of fashion in favor of the more clinical term ‘homeless’. But it was a different condition, one of voluntary transience, one in which (almost always) men would move from place to place while ‘sleeping under the stars’. It is a shamelessly romantic depiction of the condition, which must have been much harder than such a phrase makes it seem, but the romance of the hobo is real, as much as it might diverge from the truth of a more or less permanent state of vagrancy.

Not all astronomical companions are equal. There is something personal about the sun. Something about its singularity makes it more suitable as a substitute lover and companion, as a soul (sole?) connection to the universe. Is this what might be behind the longing for warm and sunny climes, especially by those who live in places that are often cold, cloudy and rainy, by those who are solitary travelers who are perhaps fleeing or in search of something? One gets the idea that it is not just an increase in degrees celsius that all of the longing and desire is about.

It’s like chocolate. One could say that the appeal of chocolate is that it is sweet, just as one could say that the appeal of southern Italy is that it is warm, but that merely scratches the surface. One does not write songs about an increase in ambient temperature, nor does one go on about chocolate because it is sweet. In fact, the property of chocolate that makes it so desired is the presence, among other compounds, of phenethylamine, a substance that stimulates the release of endorphins, those hormones that produce a unique feeling of well being within us.

Also, consider this. Seasonal affective disorder, whose acronym in English is the ever so apt SAD, is a real medical condition. In this case, the chemical protagonists are serotonin and melatonin, which increase or decrease according to the amount of sun to which one is exposed, leading to a fluctuation of one’s emotional state. This might be the reason why Scandinavian countries have developed specific cultural practices to get through their long, cold and dark winters, such as hygge, the wonderful Danish tradition of creating cozy spaces, full of candles, hot chocolate, and thick wooly socks.

It is not surprising that the sun, the center of the solar system in which we live, and upon which we depend for life, upon which every living entity depends for life, and which supplies and regulates the power that propels the ordering and orbiting of the planets, as well as all secondary and tertiary movements, holds such cultural importance for us. So it only makes sense that one would write a song about it, especially a song that compares a celestial body with a human one, or more specifically, what seems like a bright, warm and golden orb in the sky to the beautiful, kind and open face of a person, and in the particular case of O Sole Mio, of a woman.

To close, let’s take a look at another Neapolitan gem, Catari’, written by the master songwriter and composer, Salvatore Di Giacomo:

N’auciello freddigliuso,
aspetta ch’esce ‘o sole…
‘Ncopp”o tturreno ‘nfuso,
suspirano ‘e vviole… 
Catarí, che vuó’ cchiù?
‘Ntiénneme core mio:
Marzo, tu ‘o ssaje, si’ tu…
e st’auciello, songh’io…
A cold little bird
Waits for the sun to come out
On the soaked earth
The violets sigh 
Catari’ what more do you want?
Understand me, my love
March, you know, it is you
And this bird am I

This is just the second part of the song, but in it you can see the power of the sun to evoke emotion of a kind that is absolutely fundamental to the human condition, yet one that is nevertheless intimately tied to nature, to the natural environment, which we too often — and wrongly — think of as being external to us. I highly recommend that you go online to watch the video of the talented Fausto Cigliano perform the song, a version of which appeared in the film Passione, by John Turturro.

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