A excellent poet, according to Randall Jarrell, is someone who, over the course of a lifetime of standing outside during thunderstorms, is hit by lightning five or six times. And many poets have “seen the light” and written about it, whether it was a brief, fleeting, introspective “light” that suggested a spiritual experience or a deeper, more permanent “light.” Here are some poems about light.
When I Consider How My Light is Spent
John Milton wrote a sonnet titled “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” (1608-74). The poem is about the poet’s blindness; he started losing his vision in the early 1650s, when he was still in his early forties, and this sonnet is his reaction to that and the effects it has had on his life.
It is believed that he started losing his vision around 1651; he composed this poem roughly a year later.
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
‘Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?’
I fondly ask.
But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, ‘God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.’
Even though he is just halfway through his life and still has a lot of vital work left to perform, Milton worries that he is losing his sight. If he loses his sight, how will he be able to do the task that God has given him the ability to undertake and that God expects him to finish?
He questions if God wants him to continue working even after being entirely blind. He patiently explains to himself that since God is a monarch, he does not need human labor or gifts.
They Are All Gone into the World of Light
The 1650 book Silex Scintillans (also known as “Sparks from the Flint”) by Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan (1621–1995) made him one of the greatest devotional poets in English literature.
The poem “They Are All Gone into the World of Light” is about death, God, and the afterlife. It also expresses the poet’s yearning to enter the ‘World of Light’ in the hereafter to be with the people he has lost.
They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest,
After the sun’s remove.
I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days:
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmering and decays.
O holy Hope! and high Humility,
High as the heavens above!
These are your walks, and you have show’d them me
To kindle my cold love.
Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the just,
Shining nowhere, but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust
Could man outlook that mark!
He that hath found some fledg’d bird’s nest, may know
At first sight, if the bird be flown;
But what fair well or grove he sings in now,
That is to him unknown.
And yet as angels in some brighter dreams
Call to the soul, when man doth sleep:
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes
And into glory peep.
If a star were confin’d into a tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that lock’d her up, gives room,
She’ll shine through all the sphere.
O Father of eternal life, and all
Created glories under thee!
Resume thy spirit from this world of thrall
Into true liberty.
Either disperse these mists, which blot and fill
My perspective still as they pass,
Or else remove me hence unto that hill,
Where I shall need no glass.
Early in the 1850s, Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) wrote “Sudden Light,” which was later included in the collection Poems: An Offering to Lancashire. (As far as we are aware, this is the first occasion where poetry has been donated to Lancashire in this manner.)
But the poem as it is typically reproduced now dates from a little bit later and has a different last stanza. The latter version of “Sudden Light,” which first appeared in the 1881 book Poems: A New Edition, is the poem that is referenced here.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?
The poet feels as though he has been here before, or at least that is how it appears at the start of the poem (‘But when or how I cannot tell’). Despite appearing familiar, everything is fresh.
The speaker suddenly realizes that they had known one another in the past since the “veil did slip” and everything became obvious (you have been mine before). Maybe in a previous life? “I knew it back in the day.”
Especially as the strange familiarity of the speaker’s feelings about his lover turns to outright doubt in the third and final stanzas, what might initially seem slightly odd (like a stranger approaching you in a bar and saying they feel such a connection to you) is transformed into something more striking and profound. And that’s the power poetry; such that cannot be sought and found elsewhere.
Which of these poems did you enjoy most? Let us know in the comment box below. We will appreciate your understanding of the poem and would love to publish your thoughts in our next release.