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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 whispersIs a prayer for light, more light.
May our dim and longing visionThen be blessed with light, more light.
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