This poem is a reflection on knowledge (light, vision), rebellion, and forgetting. It directly refers to the first two lines of George Herbert’s “Love (III)” and indirectly to the first three lines that open Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” With a brief nod to ancient Greece, it traces the West’s simultaneous ascent and descent – from the Enlightenment, when our eyes were ‘opened’ and, blinded by our own brilliance, we began to lose sight of our Creator; to Modernism’s meaninglessness, at which point we’d forgotten about God altogether (wondering whether he’d ever existed in the first place); to the vacuity of Postmodernism and our faith in nothing at all, save some vague, undefinable ‘progress.’

After the Light

Love bids us welcome, ever.
We hear its thunder, briefly apprehend,
But in a lightning-flash forget.
Resigned to obscurity,
We sightlessly stumble, high road to low.

Long ago, nearly too long to remember,
The new seer comforted those who would seek.
We were newly-crowned possessors of the golden polis.

Somehow discontent, though well-supplied,
Of late, we chose to re-draw the well-drawn map
So there now seems no longer a city to seek,
No guilt, no dust, no sin, no light.

By our own lights, we were freed but emptied, enlightened but alone.
Yet in that rare stillness, we could not, we cannot shake the nagging suspicion
That what used to be still could be, still is.
And while thinking will not make it so, neither will feeling.
And our final resort, wishing, will not make it go away.

Yes, once there was a way,
Now butchered by the punch-clock, the madmen,
A way practiced by simple men in simple times,
Simpletons who could not know what now we know.

Ever onward and upward moving,
Enlightened man turned to doubting man, doubting first his creator’s intentions,
Then his capacity, then whether he’d even answer the door,
Doubted then the door itself.

In now slips the even-newer knower.
He is a man of two minds,1 knowing
That in the past all men said ‘knowing’, but meant by it only to show
How the well-lit path leads to an empty lot
And mean words to an end.

Grasping the newly-vacant scepter, this Super-Man to be,
His promises empty, will enslave as he would free.

Plucking the unripe fruit from the tree,
He dissects, consumes, regurgitates,
Leaving at his feet malumic2 remains.

Where once our souls drew back, convicted of sin
Now we draw back only transparent skin.

Notes:

1 See James 1:8
2 A neologism, from the Latin malum, ‘apple’.