Could you describe the tone and syntax behind Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's poem Let the Light Enter (like how "light more light repeats") and stuff like that?

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Reading Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's poem Let the Light Enter, one is naturally tempted to interpret her work through the prisms of her African American heritage and abolitionist sentiments during the pre-Civil War period, her civil rights advocacy during the era of Reconstruction, and her somewhat confusing religious orientation, being both a Unitarian and being associated with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. None of this, however, is necessarily pertinent to any discussion of this particular poem.  The subtitle to Let the Light Enter, "The Dying Words of Goethe," is a direct reference to the German writer Goethe, whose final words, a plea for more direct sunlight into his dim room, have been widely interpreted in the context of his late-in-life transformation with respect to theology.  A committed quasi-agnostic, raised Lutheran but skeptical of the role of a Divine Presence in everyday life, he was believed to have become more religious in his final days.  Consequently, his plea for "more light" has been viewed through the prism of his religious transformation.  In other words, "light" equals enlightenment.

The tone of Let the Light Enter is one of quiet desperation.  The narrator is dying ("Softly let the balmy sunshine/Play around my dying bed") and is, as with Goethe, pleading for more light.  Harper's plea, however, is for more intellectual enlightenment, rather than more enlightenment in terms of forging a closer relationship to God.  As she wrote in her poem, the plea for more light is for more time and more opportunity for intellectual expression:

Not for greater gifts of genius;
        Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
        Is a prayer for light, more light.
 
One could conclude that Harper's plea for more light is also, or primarily, a plea for religious enlightenment, as references to the Creator occur (e.g., "Gracious Saviour").  Similarly, the narrator's plea "E'er the dimly lighted valley/I with lonely feet must tread" can clearly denote the common fear of many dying people of making that final journey alone.  Harper's Unitarian beliefs, however, would seem to place the preponderance of weight in favor of intellectual legacy.
 
Harper's syntax is fairly conventional for a poem.  There is a very heavy emphasis, unsurprisingly given the subject matter and tone, on object: light, shadows, sunshine, lighted valley, Death, and so on.  Verbs are a necessary component of a viable phrase, but serve little purpose otherwise.  One notable exception is the poem's final phrase:
 
May our dim and longing vision
        Then be blessed with light, more light.
 
Rather than demands for more light, the poet is now emphasizing the action, the verb: "be blessed."  Harper's poem is religious, but the request of God is simple and reiterates the plea for more light, for a little more time, for more opportunity to create literary treasures, and for the ability to see one's way along the final journey of life.  
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