Eclipses in Literature

The eclipse experience is timeless.  Down through all human history, generations of people all over the planet have shared the common experience of totality.  Here are two essays written by American writers, describing their experiences with a total solar eclipse.

Late in his life, classic American author James Fenimore Cooper wrote an essay entitled The Eclipse to share his youthful, life-changing experience with totality.  After describing in detail the events of the day of the American total solar eclipse of June 21, 1806, Cooper concludes with this thought:

I shall only say that I have passed a varied and eventful life, that it has been my fortune to see earth, heavens, ocean, and man in most of their aspects; but never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcibly taught the lesson of humility to man as a total eclipse of the sun.

Contemporary American writer Annie Dillard experienced the American total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979.  She found the experience frightening, and felt as if she had died.  Her vivid and colorful descriptions are found in the essay Total Eclipse.  While it might seem like hyperbole and exaggeration to some, Annie’s powerful emotional reactions are very similar to descriptions provided by other eclipse observers.

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world.

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