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10 January 2014

Light is sufficient to itself —

Light is sufficient to itself —
If Others want to see
It can be had on Window Panes
Some Hours in the Day.

But not for Compensation —

It holds as large a Glow
To Squirrel in the Himmaleh
Precisely, as to you.
                                                              F506 (1863)  J862)

Light has its own existence, never needing compensation, shining equally on the poor as well as the rich, the squirrel as well as the squire. Its glow is available to all, even shut-ins who can enjoy the sunlight shining through a window.

Cotswald abbey; photo by author
    Much has been written about the many ways our world and all living things depend on sunlight. Religions have worshipped the sun and scientists have deepened our understanding of the universe by considering the properties of light. Such properties define our ability to acquire information, travel to the stars, grow food, and stay healthy. We realize the debilitating effects of too little sunlight on our health and our psyche.
    Dickinson conveys much of this with her simple opening line. She adopts a quiet and understated tone for this brief meditation on light, eschewing the emotional and grand depictions by romantic writers and painters. I like her calm but adamant assertion about the objective equality of light: its glow is precisely as great to a Himalayan squirrel as to you. Her switch to the second person with the last word of the poem effectively moves the poem from the abstract to the personal. Readers are left to confront their own response to light. 

1 comment:

  1. As often happens, ED got it right.

    Ra, God of the Sun, gives light equally to a mere squirrel in the Himalayas as He does to each of us. Everything we depend on for Life on Earth, Ra gives. Nothing we humans did justifies these gifts. In fact, without Ra’s gift of Light, neither squirrels nor we would exist. Thanksgiving comes in a month; perhaps our prayers of thanks might mention Ra.

    Ancient authors of Genesis 1:1-5 had it right, Ra is God, the literal Light of the World:

    1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

    3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

    4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

    5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.