Moved by a sunrise or sunset, we struggle to put its splendor into words. Seeking a metaphor for the human spirit, we see ourselves as candles, flames, torches… The eulogy of light is one of the oldest of human activities. Here are some of our best efforts.
After reading, use the Comments section to add your own favorite passages about light.
I am the one who openeth his eyes and there is light. When his eyes close, darkness falleth.”
– Ra, Egyptian Sun God
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth,
The parable of His Light is as if there were a niche,
And within it a Lamp: The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
The glass as it were a brilliant star;
Lit from a blessed tree,
An olive, neither of the East nor of the West,
Whose oil is well-night luminous, though fire scarce touched it;
Light upon Light!
Allah doth set for the parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.
Surah 24:35 Al Nur (The Light)
Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
Where is the way where light dwelleth, and as for darkness, where is the place thereof?
The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
I Corinthians 13:12
THE RIG VEDA
HYMN XLVIII. Dawn.
Dawn on us with prosperity, O Usas, Daughter of the Sky,
Dawn with great glory, Goddess,
Lady of the Light, dawn thou with riches, Bounteous One.
HYMN CXIII. Dawn.
This light is come, amid all lights the fairest;
born is the brilliant, far-extending brightness. . .
From days eternal hath Dawn shone, the Goddess,
and shows this light today, endowed with riches.
So will she shine on days to come immortal
she moves on in her own strength, undecaying.
In the sky’s borders hath she shone in splendor:
the Goddess hath thrown off the veil of darkness.
Awakening the world with purple horses,
on her well-harnessed chariot Dawn approaches. . .
“May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness.
Song of the Sky Loom, (Tewa Indians)
What living, sense-endowed being does not love above all the wondrous appearances spread around him, the glorious light…
– Novalis, Hymns to the Night
Use your own light
And return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.
I saw a point that shone with light so keen,
The eye that sees it cannot bear its blazing;
The star that is for us the smallest one
Would seem a moon if placed beside this point.
– Dante, Paradiso
Watch the dust grains moving
in the light near the window.
Their dance is our dance. . .
RENAISSANCE AND BEYOND
Of all the original phenomena, light is the most enthralling
– Leonardo da Vinci
I live and love in God’s peculiar light.
The two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.
– Jonathan Swift
“Light seeking light doth light of light beguile. . . ”
– Shakespeare, Two Gentlemen of Verona
HAIL holy light, of spring of Heav’n first-born,
Or of th’ Eternal Coeternal beam
May I express thee unblam’d? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternitie, dwelt then in thee. . .
– John Milton, “Light”
God appears and God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
– William Blake “The Auguries of Innocence
‘What is there in thee, Moon! That thou shouldst move
My heart so potently? When yet a child
I oft have dried my tears when thou hast smil’d. . .
And as I grew in years, still didst thou blend
With all my ardors: thou wast the deep glen;
Thou wast the mountain-to — the sage’s pen —
The poet’s harp – the voice of friends – the sun;
Thou wast the river – thou wast glory won;
Thou wast my clarion’s blast – thou wast my steed–
My goblet full of wine — my topmost deed: —
Thou wast the charm of women, lovely Moon!
O what a wild and harmonized tune…
– John Keats “Endymion”
NOVELS AND ESSAYS
The hot drink helped us through the bleak hours that precede the dawn. The sky low by the horizon took on the delicate tints of pink and yellow like the inside of a rare shell. And higher, where it glowed with a pearly sheen, a small black cloud appeared, like a forgotten fragment of the night set in a border of dazzling gold. The beams of light skipped on the crests of the waves. The eyes of men turned to the eastward. The sunlight flooded their weary faces. They were giving themselves up to fatigue as though they had done for ever with their work.
– Joseph Conrad, The Nigger of the Narcissus
It was a night such as one reads of in fairy tales. The full moon showed itself in the middle of the sky; the tall mountains, with their snowy crests, seemed to wear silver crowns; the waters of the lake glittered with tiny shining ripples. The air was mild, with that kind of penetrating warmth which enervates us till we are ready to faint, to be deeply affected without any apparent cause. But how sensitive, how vibrating the heart is at such moments! how quickly it beats, and how intense is its emotion!
– Guy de Maupassant, “Moonlight”
This world we live in is but thickened light
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold gray day reached a clear stratum in the horizon… It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.. . . We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or murmur in it.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walking
Light can’t be described; all that can be done is to keep imagining it afresh.
– Stasiuk, Dukla (Light)
Had I not seen the Sun
I could have borne the shade
But Light a newer Wilderness
My Wilderness has made
– Emily Dickinson
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light
– Edna St. Vincent Millay
Turn up the lights; I don’t want to go home in the dark
– O. Henry (June 5, 1910)
“Put out the light”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Jan. 6, 1919