‘A World Of Light’ explores the idea of dark and light and contravenes the traditional use of these two with the light representing good and peace and the dark representing evil and negativity. These traditional associations are flipped on their head. I think that the poem is ostensibly about being able to take peace in situations that seem dark. To be at one with both the light and the dark. ‘A World Of Light’ is full of ambiguity but appears to be about feelings and dealing with situations.
Form and Tone
‘A World Of Light’ is written in free verse. It appears in five stanzas each one containing six lines. The poem is very creative in its use of rhyme. Although within each stanza there is no rhyming pattern. The first line of each stanza rhymes with one another. This is the case for all six lines of each stanza. Although the rhymes aren’t always perfect and are sometimes just half-rhymes. The poem is full of imagery and describes a very powerful feeling we presume in the young life of the poet.
Analysis of 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.
There is an interesting use of words in the first line of this stanza of the poem, which you can read in full here. Light is usually associated with positives and dark with negatives. In this line that is almost reversed as the narrator says they are suffering light. The narrator then personifies the candles and says that they are “heaving”. Once again this suggestion gives the light an unexpected negative quality. The narrator then says they saw the shadow of their old self dwindle. Did they like their old self? Is this emotion good or bad? It isn’t really clear although the next two lines suggest that it is a positive emotion as they feel a sense of peace.
Day dawdled at my elbow. It was night
Within. I saw my hands, their soft dark backs
It drew no shadow round my constant image
For in a dazzling dark my spirit stirred.
‘Day’ is the first word mentioned in this stanza. This is the time you would associate with light. Again this is described negatively as dawdling. However, the narrator states that it is night within. Does this mean that on the inside they feel okay as light and darks meanings seem to have almost flipped? Once again we see the dark being mentioned with positive connotations. The dark hands are described as soft and offer protection of sorts from the noise.
The candle is described as being snuffed. It would appear that the candle can not cause a shadow around the narrator. What does this mean exactly? That the light can not highlight any negative features? Either way, we see a startling oxymoron in the last line of this stanza as the narrator describes a dazzling dark. Dazzling is usually a phrase we would expect to be used to describe the light.
But still I questioned it. My inward sight
To find assurance in the sounds I heard.
The third stanza of ‘A World Of Light’ is interesting as it shows that the narrator has an awareness that the way they are feeling isn’t necessarily the way things should be. This entire stanza seems to describe the narrator being introspective. Looking inside themselves and examining the way that they feel. They want to trust how they are feeling but they are not sure if they should or not. The thoughts that the narrator seems to be having in this stanza are quite random. They think of their clothes and voices. This gives the impression of a racing mind. It’s as if questioning their senses is causing them a feeling of disharmony.
Then senses ceased and thoughts were driven quite
My mind was keen as an attentive bird.
It seems like the narrator stops taking in their surroundings for a while but this is not a choice. As indicated by the brackets! It is unclear why they are no longer “taking in data” perhaps they have just gotten used to their surrounding? But what is clear is being able to block that stuff out is helping them to feel relaxed. We see after this break that the inverse nature of the light and the dark seems to have flipped back to the norm. Light is once again described in a positive manner and used to describe the person. This stanza then symbolizes a rebirth of sorts as the narrator describes themselves as having bright new plumage. There are lots of positives here to suggest the narrator has dealt with their troubles and come through the other side.
Yes fire, light, air, birds, wax, the sun’s own height
To peace that penetrates and is not feared.
I think the first two lines of this stanza are used to describe the narrator’s journey from darkness into the light. How they once had a racing mind filled with fire, light, air, birds, wax etc. but that has all dissipated. They talk about the situation and how difficult it was to deal with. They describe the hottest fire as appearing cool. Perhaps the intonation here is that despite being in a situation where they should have felt euphoric they felt down. In a room full of candles they only felt dark.
It would appear it is a situation they have learned to deal with now though as they say that every breath is a homage to peace. This suggests that they are truly comfortable with their surroundings now. That they no longer feel turmoil. In fact, it seems that they now embrace the peace without fear. It seems like they had issues with the late but that has disrupted.
About Elizabeth Jennings
Elizabeth Jennings was an English poet who begun her life in Boston but then moved to Oxford where she resided thereafter. Jennings is not renowned for poetry that you would refer to as being particularly innovative but is instead considered a traditionalist. She is particularly well known for lyric poetry using simple rhymes and rhythms. It would appear she was quite social, acting as a member of a poetry group “The Movement” which consisted of with Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, and Thom Gunn. She had a lengthy career and over the course of it produced an impressive thirty poetry collections as well as acting as an editor on some notable works.