T.S.Eliot and a footnote to the dawn. (Writing in the plain style is hard work.)
This line from Little Gidding — 'The first-met stranger in the waning dusk' — is always mis-read. We think dusk means evening, but here it means dawn. Eliot struggled to get this right, and sent a series of letters about it. As he said, 'it is surprisingly difficult to find words for the shade before morning.' And English describes the dusk better than the dawn.
Dusk can refer to the morning, it’s just unusual. It means 'the darker stage of twilight', which itself only 'esp.' applies to the evening, according to the OED. Eliot was relying on precedent from Tennyson and knew it didn't really work. But he was stuck.
He was going to write, 'The first-met stranger at lantern end', because he was thinking very specifically of the time of day when people put night lanterns out. But it was 'too quaint' and there 'is so much ending at the beginning.' And 'lantern out' is 'too strained'.
His aim was to avoid a 'heavy latinism'. He wanted an image that was 'sudden and homely.' He had found a word that meant exactly what he wanted — antelucan, before light. But that is obviously wrong.
Though its meaning is clear enough, such a word is appropriate only for an ornate style; and the passage into which I wished to insert it was in a very deliberately plain style; the word would have attracted attention to itself, and away from the task it had to perform... So in the end I had to put in 'waning dusk'. It was not what I wanted but it was, I believe, the best the English language could do for me.
All of which is to say that writing in the plain style is hard work. For more information like this, you need the ever wonderful The Poems of TS Eliot: The Annotated Text (US link) edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue.