Learn English » English Literature » Poem 'A World of Light' by Elizabeth Jennings
A World of Light
Yes when the dark withdrew I suffered light
And saw the candles heave beneath the wax,
I watched the shadow of my old self dwindle
As softly on my recollection stole
A mood the senses could not touch or damage,
A sense of peace beyond the breathing word.
Day dawdled at my elbow. It was night
Within. I saw my hands, their soft dark backs
Keeping me from the noise outside. The candle
Seemed snuffed into a deep and silent pool:
It drew no shadow round my constant image
For in a dazzling dark my spirit stirred.
But still I questioned it. My inward sight
Still knew the senses and the senses' tracks,
I felt my flesh and clothes, a rubbing sandal,
And distant voices wishing to console.
My mind was keen to understand and rummage
To find assurance in the sounds I heard.
Then senses ceased and thoughts were driven quite
Away (no act of mine). I could relax
And feel a fire no earnest prayer can kindle;
Old parts of peace dissolved into a whole
And like a bright thing proud in its new plumage
My mind was keen as an attentive bird.
Yes fire, light, air, birds, wax, the sun's own height
I draw from now, but every image breaks.
Only a child's simplicity can handle
Such moments when the hottest fire feels cool,
And every breath is like a sudden homage
To peace that penetrates and is not feared.
World of Light is an expression of the poet’s preference for dark, compared to light. In this sense, it is in stark contrast to the conventional portrayal of light as being good and dark as being evil.
The author begins by saying that “when the dark withdrew I suffered light”. The word “suffered’ is indicative of the poet’s feelings about daylight. Even the candles that “heave beneath the wax” take part in the sense of sadness that the poet feels with the coming of light. The light naturally takes away shadows, and the “sense of peace” that the night had brought to her earlier.
The second stanza continues the sentiment about dark and light. The poet has not let “day” in yet: it “dawdled” at her “elbow” waiting to be gained entrance into her world. The day is full of “noise”. The candle that kept company for the poet at night now is “snuffed”. She reiterates that it was in the dark that her “spirit stirred”. Clearly, there is a stark preference for the dark, in the poem.
In the third stanza, the poet registers her strange affinity towards the dark, given that she knew her surroundings, “flesh and clothes, a rubbing sandal” and also other people trying to be friends with her (“distant voices wishing to console”). She says that her mind was trying to find out if there was any assurance in the voices she heard around her during the day time.
The fourth stanza continues the stream of consciousness, and talks about the relaxed feeling the poet had which paradoxically lighted a “fire no earnest prayer can kindle”. Slowly, the peace that the dark had provided reassembled into “a bright thing proud in its new plumage”, and the poet’s mind became as “keen as an attentive bird”.
The final stanza reaffirms what has been said before. The poet draws strength from “fire, light, air, birds, wax, the sun’s own height”, but even the new found peace sometimes breaks. According to the poet, the complex moments of life in the day can be handled only by “a child’s simplicity” that makes the “hottest fire” feel cool. During the day, “every breath” is like a “homage” to the peace that is created by the poet herself. It is the peace that she values; it “penetrates” her being. It belongs to her, and is “not feared”.
Language and imagery
The poem is written in free verse, in five stanzas each containing six lines. Although within each stanza there is no rhyming pattern, first lines of each stanza rhymes with one another.
The poem is full of imagery. In the first stanza itself, the candle is personified as it ‘heaves’, a negative reaction to the coming of the day. In the second stanza ‘day’ is personified as it ‘dawdles’, again a negative connotation to the ‘day’ and the light it brings. The last major image of the poem is that of the poet in the day light as an “attentive bird” with bright plumage. This brings to mind the image of a person who is well prepared to face the tasks of the day, ready to take on challenges and always alert, like a bird, to the stimulations that the day brings.