Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“‘More Light! More Light!’” may be read as a Holocaust poem, a World War II poem, a historical poem, or simply a modern, quietly anguished asking of an eternal question: How can God, if God exists, permit the cruelties human beings inflict upon one another?

Hecht served in Europe in World War II; he saw the concentration camps, spoke with survivors, viewed the dead. As a Jewish American, Hecht was haunted by what he saw and heard of the Holocaust; it shadows many of the poems in The Hard Hours. “Rites and Ceremonies,” a long poem that is the center of that volume, also views the Holocaust in the context of humanity’s long history of hatred. In it, scenes from the concentration camps mingle with those of a ritual burning of Jews as scapegoats for the Black Death; the path from the stake to the ovens is clear. In one of the collection’s most personal poems, “It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It.,” the poet, safe in suburbia, contemplates his children, knowing that he could not have saved them from the gas chambers.

“‘More Light! More Light!’” is rich in ironies, not least of which is its title. Taken from the dying words of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the phrase reminds the reader that a culture capable of producing great and enlightened artists could also produce the architects of the death camps. Light, in the poem, represents both God and humanity, but in the darkness of the Holocaust...

(The entire section is 480 words.)