‘This’ and the meaning of light

by Barbara Maria Rathbone


This is what I most want
unpursued, alone
to reach beyond the light
that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-
no other happiness-
and learn, from starlight,
what its fire might suggest.

A star burns as a star,
light becomes light,
because our murmuring
strengthens us, and warms the night.

And I want to say to you
my little one, whispering,
I can only lift you towards the light
by means of this babbling.

Osip Emilevich Mandelstam

‘This’ is my favourite poem because it is one that seems to express the significance of light as a representation of free human creativity. We are long used to the symbolism of light and dark – the great Zoroastrian forces pulling against each other, which would not exist independently – ying and yang.  We yearn for light, and as in much of nature are governed by it.  We live out dark winters and long nights in the promise that in light all will again be revealed and have meaning and purpose –  all that is lost to us restored.  Darkness can steal our thoughts, bleed them of hope, colour, form, and it is little wonder that light deprivation results in depression and that idiomatic nocturnal waking and night terror that is symptomatic of serotonin downtime.  Some of us are up against the darkness more than others.

I could wax lyrical about light for a long time –  scholars and sages for centuries have mused on its meaning for it has high spiritual significance.  Then again, light in its other definition is to be without weight or ballast, a neutrality.  Sometimes it has an even more esoteric meaning.   ‘Light’ can come to us in the form of people who touch us, music that raises a deadened spirit and the alertness and beauty of a work of art.  As Mandelstam says, the only way we can lift each other towards that light, however we see it, is through the creative expression of ourselves.   This is really just my own bit of babbling.