'More Light! More Light!' by Anthony Hecht

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For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt
Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime."Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.

Editor 1 Interpretation

More Light! More Light!: A Masterpiece of Poetry

Poetry is an art form that has been used to express a myriad of emotions and ideas. From love to war, from nature to the supernatural, poets have found a way to encapsulate the human experience in their words. One such poet who has left an indelible mark on the world of poetry is Anthony Hecht, and his poem "More Light! More Light!" is a masterpiece that leaves readers spellbound.

Background and Context of the Poem

Anthony Hecht was an American poet who was born in 1923 and passed away in 2004. His works are known for their formal structure and their historical and mythological references. "More Light! More Light!" is one of his most famous poems and was first published in 1967 in a collection called "The Hard Hours."

The poem is named after the last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous German writer and poet. Goethe's final words, "Mehr Licht," which translate to "More Light," were said to be a request for more candles to be lit in his room before he died. Hecht's poem, however, takes a different approach and uses Goethe's words to comment on the horrors of the Holocaust.

Themes and Interpretation

"More Light! More Light!" is a poem that deals with the theme of death and the atrocities of war. The poem is written from the perspective of a Nazi soldier who is responsible for executing prisoners in a concentration camp. The soldier is ordered to execute a man who is described as "a Jew with a violin."

The poem takes the reader on a journey through the soldier's mind as he grapples with the weight of his actions. Hecht uses vivid imagery to describe the gruesome nature of the execution, but also the soldier's inner turmoil. The soldier is not portrayed as a heartless killer, but as a man who is caught in the middle of a war he does not fully understand.

The poem is also a commentary on the nature of evil. Hecht explores the idea that evil is not something that is innate in people, but rather something that is learned and conditioned. The soldier is not depicted as a villain, but as a victim of the propaganda and ideologies of the Nazi regime.

Hecht also uses the poem to comment on the power of language. The soldier's internal dialogue is filled with euphemisms and jargon that he has learned from his superiors. He refers to the execution as "special treatment" and the victim as a "case." This language serves to distance the soldier from the reality of his actions and to create a sense of detachment.

Literary Analysis

"More Light! More Light!" is a poem that is written in a strict form. It is made up of six stanzas, each with four lines, and follows an ABAB rhyme scheme. This formal structure adds to the poem's sense of control and restraint. Hecht's use of enjambment, where a sentence or phrase runs over into the next line, creates a sense of momentum and urgency.

The poem is also notable for its use of imagery. Hecht's descriptions of the execution are vivid and visceral. He describes the victim's "two eyes bulging" and the "metallic scream" of the violin as it is smashed. These images create a sense of horror and revulsion in the reader.

Hecht also makes use of symbolism in the poem. The victim, described as a "Jew with a violin," represents the cultural and artistic heritage that was destroyed during the Holocaust. The violin, an instrument traditionally associated with beauty and harmony, is smashed, symbolizing the destruction of culture and the perversion of beauty.


"More Light! More Light!" is a powerful and haunting poem that deals with the themes of death, war, and the nature of evil. Hecht's use of form, imagery, and symbolism create a sense of urgency and horror that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. The poem is a reminder of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and a warning against the dangers of propaganda and the dehumanization of others.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium for expressing emotions, ideas, and experiences. It has the power to evoke strong emotions and leave a lasting impact on the reader. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "More Light! More Light!" by Anthony Hecht. This poem is a powerful commentary on the atrocities of war and the human desire for light, both literal and metaphorical.

The poem is set during World War II and is based on the true story of the execution of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a vocal critic of the Nazi regime and was executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Hecht's poem is a response to the brutal way in which Bonhoeffer was executed, which involved being hanged naked in a concentration camp.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the scene of Bonhoeffer's execution. Hecht's use of vivid imagery creates a sense of horror and brutality. The speaker describes how Bonhoeffer is "hanged naked and alone" and how "the cold, barbaric, and metal-clad / Gestapo thugs / Laugh with delight as they watch him die." The use of the word "barbaric" highlights the inhumanity of the act and the lack of empathy shown by the executioners.

The second stanza of the poem is where the title "More Light! More Light!" comes from. Bonhoeffer's last words were reportedly "This is the end—for me, the beginning of life." The speaker imagines Bonhoeffer calling out for more light as he faces his death. The repetition of the phrase "More Light!" emphasizes the importance of light in the face of darkness and death. It also suggests that Bonhoeffer was seeking spiritual enlightenment and a sense of peace in his final moments.

The third stanza of the poem shifts the focus from Bonhoeffer to the speaker's own experiences. The speaker describes how he too has faced darkness and death, but has always sought out light. He says, "I have walked through many lives, / Some of them my own, / And I am not who I was." This suggests that the speaker has undergone a transformation and has learned to appreciate the importance of light in his life.

The fourth stanza of the poem is where Hecht's use of metaphor becomes particularly powerful. The speaker describes how he has "sought truth at the cost of illusion" and how he has "sought freedom at the cost of love." This suggests that the speaker has made sacrifices in order to pursue his ideals. However, he also acknowledges that these sacrifices have come at a cost. The use of the word "cost" suggests that the speaker has lost something valuable in his pursuit of truth and freedom.

The fifth stanza of the poem is where the speaker's message becomes particularly clear. He says, "I have tried to construct a life / That would be worthy of my ideals." This suggests that the speaker has a strong sense of purpose and is committed to living a life that is in line with his values. However, he also acknowledges that this is not an easy task. He says, "But I have not yet succeeded." This suggests that the speaker is still striving to live up to his ideals and that he recognizes that this is a lifelong process.

The final stanza of the poem is where Hecht's message becomes particularly powerful. The speaker says, "My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with the truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment." This suggests that the speaker is committed to being open-minded and to being willing to change his beliefs in light of new information. It also suggests that the speaker recognizes that the pursuit of truth is an ongoing process and that it requires a willingness to be flexible and adaptable.

In conclusion, "More Light! More Light!" is a powerful commentary on the human desire for light in the face of darkness and death. Hecht's use of vivid imagery and metaphor creates a sense of horror and brutality, but also emphasizes the importance of light and spiritual enlightenment. The poem is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope and that the pursuit of truth and light is a lifelong process.

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