Skip to main content

In the ethical cosmology of The Hard Hours there is little room for heroism. …Think of the parable of the Pole and the two Jews in "More Light! More Light!" It serves as the book’s most bracing example – and it is an example – of the way that "casual death" drains away the soul and barbarism dehumanizes its victims. Those victims are not even permitted a "pitiful dignity." The language of the poem is steady and neutral, even documentary, the outrage distanced, the riveting story told without much commentary:

[Hirsch quotes the poem]

In this bleak twentieth century exemplum, heroism is unrewarded and suffering is neither redemptive nor tracendental. It doesn’t signify. The Pole acts humanely (and without any sign higher than his own conscience) and yet he suffers a death as slow and brutal as that of his victims, the Jews who have already lost their souls and now lose their lives, too. The dehumanization is complete – even the guard is metonymically identified only as his "Luger." There are no mourners or saviors in this poem. There is only the relentless stripping certainty of the death camps. And the eventual passing of time. The Goethean ideal of light has been replaced by the banal darkness of evil. Humanism, like the Age of Reason – is effectively over.