In the nightmare of the dark All the dogs of Europe bark, And the living nations wait, Each sequestered in its hate W. H. Auden
In this dark time, I want to make light bigger, to throw it in the air like a pizza chef, to stick my fists in, stretching it till I can get both arms into radiance to the elbow spinning it above us.
But oh, dark is such a genius at argument, using all the rhetorical figures. And you aren’t bad yourself, Mr. Auden, elucidating war, how it subtracts and subtracts light till each nation becomes a blind man alone in his own dark, gripping his cane, unable to cross to his lover who waits by the pizza parlor. Unable even to see her, unable to sing out to her the way a lover might sing out, Susan, it’s you!
In truth, the dark is that personal, fluttering like a red moth behind my eyelids. My Texas cousin lies dead this afternoon and his widow’s at the Funeral Home with their child, trying to explain where he went. Isn’t that the brilliant final move of dark, Poof! to separate us from each other? Between us, Mr. Auden, you and I have multiplied
the dark till some might say there’s no escape. But seeing darkness is seeing something. Maybe that’s why, as Susan crosses to the blind man, I notice the horizon begins leaking into the sky. Light reaches the treetops. It falls in chutes. And then, god help us, like everything, it breeds and breeds.
The year: 1944. The place: a makeshift military encampment in the verdant countryside outside of Madrid, where a company of Spanish soldiers is methodically eliminating the few remaining resistance fighters trying to topple the fascist government of General Franco.
The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one, prying it open with a blade under cover of night to determine its component parts: seeking with his fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log. The same goes for wings. Without evidence from his cadavers, he dispenses with them, painting angels as fit as young quarrymen and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic principles will never apply. Even God looks as if he climbs into bed each night stiff from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep, his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.
The diaries of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon have been digitized and made available to the public by the University of Cambridge. Sassoon, a British soldier, was quickly disillusioned by the war and became an outspoken war critic. His diaries feature poetry, prose, and drawings and include his 1917 antiwar “Soldier’s Declaration,” which got him committed to a hospital for the duration of the war. He described the first day of the Battle of Somme as a “sunlit picture of hell” (BBC, July 31).