Carolyn Forché

(28 April, 1950 - / Detroit, Michigan)

The Testimony Of Light - Poem by Carolyn Forché

Our life is a fire dampened, or a fire shut up in stone.
--Jacob Boehme, De Incarnatione Verbi

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Comments about The Testimony Of Light by Carolyn Forché

  • Gold Star - 13,486 Points Terry Craddock (5/5/2015 7:39:00 PM)

    The poem 'The Testimony Of Light' by Carolyn Forché, is a poem which begs a question with the title, what is the testimony of light? Normally light illuminates darkness and has connotations of goodness, enlightenment; but the testimony of light produced from nuclear weapons, is dead destruction, severe burns, the horrific death of most survivors from radiation sickness.

    The quotation from Jacob Boehme adds to an intelligent insightful development of the title's theme in the first line; anyone familiar with coal or wood range fires from perhaps an earlier generation, knows that the fire can be dampened down by smothering the fire, denying the fire varying amounts of oxygen. The symbolism is an infusion of possibilities, the juxtaposition with the rest of the poem suggests people's lives can be dampened or sniffed out in bombing raids, we are coal or wood burned by bombs, Japanese houses were wood and they burned in Hiroshima ignited by a nuclear explosion. Open fires are encased often in stone chimneys and Hiroshima was engulfed by an explosion and fire storm, which left only stones blacked in areas not vapourized. Stone is also a grave marker.

    Thus the city burned in ash clouds, the poet uses a Japanese tree to depict this image of a city consumed, with the line 'Outside everything visible and invisible a blazing maple'. The bomb was dropped in the morning, but life stopped with the bombs detonation, the day was broken, torn open like seams ripped apart, far from the sight of the western world. How to depict this? Carolyn masters this expression writing, 'Daybreak: a seam at the curve of the world. The trousered legs of the women shimmered' and for a tiny fraction of a millisecond, trouser legs did shimmer before vapourizing or bursting into flames.

    How to depict Japanese women and culture, a language we do not understand? Yes they sometimes walked with arms folded in front of them and a prophesy is written 'They held their arms in front of them like ghosts.' Unique Japanese cult will be conveyed with a single word 'kimono' which will highlight these are civilians including women children not soldiers being bombed.

    Clinker is a stony residue from burnt coal or from a furnace, Carolyn can play on this word, and extend the motifs of a city as a stone dampened fire, with Japanese bones burned, with the brilliant line 'The coal bones of the house clinked in a kimono of smoke.' These were people like us, with love of family, dreams of life, but beauty in their lives is instantly transformed in the blink of an eye into ruin. The world will immediately focus on news of this horror with dramatic footage of an atomic bomb exploding and images of the aftermath. But how to phrase this in a subtle line before revealing the topic and setting of the poem? Yes 'An attention hovered over the dream where the world had been' fulfills this description, and ends the dream imagery of the early section of the poem, by revealing the topic of the poem, with horror nightmare images.

    Why this has happened can be asked with a line some readers may miss because the defining line does not even ask the question. The rapid reader has missed the significance of

    For if Hiroshima in the morning, after the bomb has fallen,
    is like a dream, one must ask whose dream it is.

    The rest of the poem should now be easy to decode and appreciate. Sympathy with suffering forces an empathic caring heart and hand to write

    Must understand how not to speak would carry it with us.
    With bones put into rice bowls.
    While the baby crawled over its dead mother seeking milk.

    This last reference to a babies pitiful plight, adds symbolic meaning to Muga-muchu, a fat bomb which ate a city. A baby has no developed understanding or conception, as the world at this moment as no knowledge of nuclear destruction, thus haunts 'without self, without center. Thrown up in the sky by a wind.'

    The entire world has changed, another layer of security has been stripped from the world, we are not safe anywhere; an arms race of nuclear insanity will come and human minds will be plagued with a new haunting fear. Perhaps Carolyn references this with the simple words

    The way back is lost, the one obsession.
    The worst is over.
    The worst is yet to come.

    We may or may not like the poem and the topic chosen, but if we take the time to read 'The Testimony Of Light' with care and depth, we may fill in blankets which the poet intended and appreciated a beautifully crafted poem written with subtle simplicity. As for me 'The Testimony Of Light' by Carolyn Forché, I liked it immensely.

    Anyone interested in three of my takes on this theme might want to read the short simple but hidden theme of 'Bubbling Brook', or the more developed 'Lemmings Into The Sea' and 'Black Rain: From Hiroshima To Nagasaki'. Regardless seize life and enjoy your day. (Report) Reply

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  • Silver Star - 4,494 Points John Richter (5/5/2015 6:42:00 AM)

    The coal bones of the house clinked in a kimono of smoke.
    An attention hovered over the dream where the world had been.

    These lines are absolute nonsense.... We no longer need poets. We only need an app that strings words together randomly now.... (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 39,681 Points Roseann Shawiak (1/22/2014 1:05:00 AM)

    Dark side of life being brought forward through your words in this poem
    painting pictures of the destruction in our minds for life. Intense - stirs up
    emotions within. Very good poem. Thank you for sharing, RoseAnn (Report) Reply

  • Silver Star - 4,396 Points Ken E Hall (10/23/2012 7:58:00 AM)

    Life is sealed in stone when fire bombs of mass destruction lie in holes ready for death
    The worst is yet to come. regards (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Open Closed (3/8/2010 9:53:00 AM)

    I really didn't like this poem. smd. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie ari anna arena (11/2/2006 11:51:00 AM)

    as always, a pure and stunning voice. beauty-full... (Report) Reply








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