What is the diction of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's poem "Let The Light Enter?"

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There is an elevated form of diction that governs Harper's "Let the Light Enter." This word choice is deliberate on her part.  One reason why the diction has to be elevated is because of the subject matter.  In discussing Goethe and his last words, Harper's diction is elevated in order to communicate the transcendent subject and instant of Goethe's life that forms the basis of the poem:

Gracious Saviour, when life’s day-dreams
Melt and vanish from the sight,
May our dim and longing vision
Then be blessed with light, more light.

Harper's word choice is reflective of the abstract nature of Goethe's demand for "more light."  

At the same time, the abstract diction conveys what Harper feels about Goethe, as a subject.  Harper conveys how a poet's desire for "more light" is not merely reflective of final words, but is also the spiritual undercurrent that defines what it means to be a poet, in general:

Not for greater gifts of genius;
Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
Is a prayer for light, more light.

Harper understands this reality as she is a poet herself.  Thus, her use of elevated diction embodying abstraction in the form of contrasting the darkness of death with the desire for "more light" is a statement of how she sees her own genre.  In employing diction that is abstract, Harper is able to transform The concrete experience of death is transformed into an experience of liberation in large part due to the diction that Harper uses.  The connotation is evident in that Goethe and his gifts transcend death for "light," something that Harper sees as synonymous with his work and his contribution to the discourse.  This goes beyond "laurels" and temporal praise.  Rather, the formal diction that conveys a symbolic meaning behind light is reflective of Harper's attitudes towards her subject.

The use of formal diction brings an elevated tone to the poem.  It communicates Harper's willingness to elevate Goethe to a transcendental notion of the good:

“Light! more light! for Death is weaving
Shadows ‘round my waning sight,
And I fain would gaze upon him
Through a stream of earthly light.” 

The "weaving" nature of Death as well as a "stream of earthly light" are examples of elevated diction.  This word choice conveys Harper's belief in how poets can be transcendent, a transformative abstraction.  Being a woman of color in 19th Century America, Harper understands the need for "more light" and can also relate to how poetry can be a vehicle to communicate what can be out of what is.  It is in this personalized element where the elevated diction of "Let the Light Enter" can be fully understood and appreciated.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,949 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question