Maggie Smith

1 post

About That Darkness Before Dawn…

Maybe I like the poem because it’s not everything-is-beautiful á la William Wordsworth. Maybe I like it because everything was decidedly not beautiful when it first appeared in Poetry magazine during 2020, the Year of Covid and Trump’s lack of leadership under pressure (not that you need to apply pressure to see his tremendous lackings).

In that sense, poet Maggie Smith has it right. She pulls no punches. She acknowledges no sacred cows. Hell, she’s even willing to step into the ring against light. That’s like taking on family, bluebirds, and apple pie all at once.

But, hey. Someone has to write these counter-poems. Dark will have its day (and I don’t mean the night) and, in fact, is having its day in world events right now. Behold:


How Dark the Beginning
Maggie Smith

All we ever talk of is light—
let there be light, there was light then,

good light—but what I consider
dawn is darker than all that.

So many hours between the day
receding and what we recognize

as morning, the sun cresting
like a wave that won’t break

over us—as if light were protective,
as if no hearts were flayed,

no bodies broken on a day
like today. In any film,

the sunrise tells us everything
will be all right. Danger wouldn’t

dare show up now, dragging
its shadow across the screen.

We talk so much of light, please
let me speak on behalf

of the good dark. Let us
talk more of how dark

the beginning of a day is.


I guess the poem’s value depends on the lens you view it through. I have no idea if Smith meant this literally and literally only, but many readers (including this one) can see light vs. dark in a figurative sense as well.

Thus, one of my favorite lines from the Bible: “Through a glass darkly.” These days, I see a lot in this world “through a glass darkly” because a lot of things are sinister in a déjà vu, 1930s kind of way.

Of course, you can put your head in the sand and avoid all that, brightening up your own life, but then you stand accused of contributing to the dark forces by removing your own resistance from various causes for good.

For me, then, Smith’s poem speaks to things that have crawled out of dark sewers into the light of day. They are the new normal, and they are decidedly encouraged by each other and by their new freedom to operate in the light of day.

That may be far from Smith’s intent, but the reader-writer compact tells us that both have equal roles, as long as within reason.

Reasonably yours,