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A Chant of Darkness, as published in Century Magazine, (May, 1908)


"A Chant of Darkness"
by Helen Keller

The following lines were originally a passage in the first draft of Miss Keller's essay, "Sense and Sensibility," which was published in THE CENTURY MAGAZINE for February and March. As Miss Keller developed the thought, her style became dithyrambic, and made a poetical chant which stood out from the prose. Her friends advised her to take the passage out and reshape it into a loose stanzaic structure. The original passage began with a quotation from Job, the idea being that Job lived through affliction and darkness to win new faith, and that there is yet another faith which finds joy in the midst of darkness. Miss Keller's lines are seen to be a blending of her imagination with passages from Job and, to a less extent, from modern poets. The quotations from Job are the foundation from which springs Miss Keller's own chant of faith, the text on which she has constructed her poem with a definite autobiographic intention. - The Editor.

"My wings are folded o'er mine ears,
My wings are crossed o'er mine eyes,
Yet through their silver shade appears,
And through their lulling plumes arise,
A Shape, a throng of sounds."
- Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound."

I dare not ask why we are reft of light,
Banished to our solitary isles amid the unmeasured seas,
Or how our sight was nurtured to glorious vision,
To fade and vanish and leave us in the dark alone.
The secret of God is upon our tabernacle;
Into His mystery I dare not pry. Only this I know:
With Him is strength, With Him is wisdom,
And His wisdom hath set darkness in our paths.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

O Dark! thou awful, sweet, and holy Dark!
In thy solemn spaces, beyond the human eye,
God fashioned His universe; laid the foundations of the earth,
Laid the measure thereof, and stretched the line upon it;
Shut up the sea with doors, and made the glory
Of the clouds a covering for it;
Commanded His morning, and, behold! chaos fled
Before the uplifted face of the sun;
Divided a water-course for the overflowing of waters;
Sent rain upon the earth -
Upon the wilderness
Wherein there was no man,
Upon the desert
Where grew no tender herb,
And, lo! there was greenness upon the plains,
And the hills were clothed with beauty!
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

O Dark! thou secret and inscrutable Dark!
In thy silent depths, the springs whereof man hath not fathomed,
God wrought the soul of man.
O Dark! compassionate, all knowing Dark!
Tenderly, as shadows to the evening, comes thy message to man.
Softly thou layest thy hand on his tired eyelids,
And his soul, weary and homesick, returns
Unto thy soothing embrace.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

O Dark! wise, vital, thought-quickening dark!
In thy mystery thou hidest the light
That is the soul's life.
Upon thy solitary shores I walk unafraid;
I dread no evil; though I walk in the valley of the shadow,
I shall not know the ecstasy of fear
When gentle Death leads me through life's open door,
When the bands of night are sundered,
And the day outpours its light.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

The timid soul, fear-driven, shuns the dark;
But upon the cheeks of him who must abide in shadow
Breathes the wind of rushing angel-wings,
And round him falls a light from unseen fires.
Magical beams glow athwart the darkness;
Paths of beauty wind through his black world
To another world of light,
Where no veil of sense shuts him out from Paradise.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

O Dark! thou blessed, quiet Dark!
To the lone exile who must dwell with thee
Though art benign and friendly;
From the harsh world thou dost shut him in;
To him thou whisperest the secrets of the wondrous night;
Upon him thou bestowest regions wide and boundless as his spirit;
Thou givest a glory to all humble things;
With thy hovering pinions thou coverest all unlovely objects;
Under thy brooding wings there is peace.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.


Once in regions void of light I wandered;
In blank darkness I stumbled,
And fear led me by the hand;
My feet pressed earthward,
Afraid of pitfalls.
By many shapeless terrors of the night affrighted,
To the wakeful day
I held out beseeching arms.

Then came Love, bearing in her hand
The torch that is the light unto my feet,
And softly spoke Love: "Hast thou
Entered into the treasures of darkness?
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the night?
Search out thy blindness. It holdeth
Riches past computing."

The words of Love set my spirit aflame.
My eager fingers searched out the mysteries,
The splendors, the inmost sacredness, of things,
And in the vacancies discerned
With spiritual sense the fullness of life;
And the gates of Day stood wide.

I am shaken with gladness;
My limbs tremble with joy;
My heart and the earth
Tremble with happiness;
The ecstasy of life
Is abroad in the world.

Knowledge hath uncurtained heaven;
On the uttermost shores of darkness there is light;
Midnight hath sent forth a beam!
The blind that stumbled in darkness without light
Behold a new day!
In the obscurity gleams the star of Thought;
Imagination hath a luminous eye,
And the mind hath a glorious vision.


"The man is blind. What is life to him?
A closed book held up against a sightless face.
Would that he could see
Yon beauteous star, and know
For one transcendent moment
The palpitating joy of sight!"

All sight is of the soul. Behold it
In the upward fight
Of the unfettered spirit! Hast thou
Seen thought bloom in the blind child's face?
Hast thou seen his mind grow,
Like the running dawn, to grasp
The vision of the Master?
It was the miracle of inward sight.

In the realms of wonderment where I dwell
I explore life with my hands;
I recognize, and am happy;
My fingers are ever athirst for the earth,
And drink up its wonders with delight,
Draw out earth's dear delights;
My feet are charged with murmur,
The throb, of all things that grow.

This is touch, this quivering,
This flame, this ether,
This glad rush of blood,
This daylight in my heart,
This glow of sympathy in my palms!
Thou blind, loving, all-prying touch,
Thou openest the book of life to me.

The noiseless little noises of earth
Come with softest rustle;
The shy, sweet feet of life;
The silky flutter of moth-wings
Against my restraining palm;
The strident beat of insect-wings,
The silvery trickle of water;
Little breezes busy in the summer grass;
The music of crisp, whisking, scurrying leaves,
The swirling, wind-swept, frost-tinted leaves;
The crystal splash of summer rain,
Saturate with the odors of the sod.

With alert fingers I listen
To the showers of sound
That the wind shakes from the forest.
I bathe in the liquid shade
Under the pines, where the air hangs cool
After the shower is done.

My saucy little friend the squirrel
Flips my shoulder with his tail,
Leaps from leafy billow to leafy billow,
Returns to eat his breakfast from my hand.
Between us there is glad sympathy;
He gambols; my pulses dance;
I am exultingly full
Of the joy of life!

Have not my fingers split the sand
On the sun-flooded beach?
Hath not my naked body felt the water sing
When the sea hath enveloped it
With rippling music?
Have I not felt
The lilt of waves beneath my boat,
The flap of sail,
The strain of mast,
The wild rush
Of the lightning-charged winds?
Have I not smelt the swift, keen flight
Of winged odors before the tempest?
Here is joy awake, aglow;
Here is the tumult of the heart.

My hands evoke sight and sound out of feeling,
Intershifting the senses endlessly,
Linking motion with sight, odor with sound.
They give color to the honeyed breeze,
The measure and passion of a symphony
To the beat and quiver of unseen wings.
In the secrets of earth and sun and air
My fingers are wise;
They snatch light out of darkness,
They thrill to harmonies breathed in silence.

I walk in the stillness of the night,
And my soul uttereth her gladness.
O Night, still, odorous Night, I love thee!
O wide, spacious Night, I love thee!
O steadfast, glorious Night!
I touch thee with my hands;
I lean against thy strength;
I am comforted.

O fathomless, soothing Night!
Thou art a balm to my restless spirit,
I nestle gratefully in thy bosom,
Dark, gracious mother! Like a dove,
I rest in thy bosom.
Out of the uncharted, unthinkable dark we came,
And in a little time we shall return again
Into the vast, unanswering dark.

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