Daniel Hoffman

Daniel Hoffman: On "More Light! More Light!"

… At times Hecht’s dramatic lyrics armored in biblical allusions remind one of the diction and vehemence of [Robert] Lowell ("These yes, which many have praised as gay, / Are the stale jellies of lust in which Adam sinned"). But in poems that dramatize the hard hours of his generation’s history, Hecht speaks with a tragic irony that is his own unmistakeable voice. "More Light! More Light! plays out against the implications of Goethe’s dying cry two episodes from history: the burning at the stake of an accused heretic in the Middle Ages, and this:

[Hoffman quotes the two stanzas before the last.]

In the absence of the light of either Goethe’s humanism or the Word, the Pole’s refusal may suggest that he, like their Nazi captor, is too scornful of Jews to kill them himself. As for them, "Much casual death had drained their souls away," and they obey the order to bury the Pole. But then the Nazi makes them dig him out and get back in. The gravity of Hecht’s quatrains molds this fable of "casual death" as unassuageable, without transcendence.