Spring 1947 • Vol. IX No. 2 PoetryApril 1, 1947 |

Eyes of Night-Time

On the roads at night I saw the glitter of eyes: my dark around me let shine one ray; that black allowed their eyes: spangles in the cat's, air in the moth's     eye shine, mosaic of the fly, ruby-eyed beetle, the eyes that never weep, the horned toad sitting and its tear of blood, fighters and prisoners in the forest, people aware in this almost total dark, with the difference, the one broad fact of light. Eyes on the road at night, sides of a road like rhyme; the floor of the illumined shadow sea and shallows with their assembling flash and show of sight, root, holdfast, eyes of the brittle stars. And your eyes in the shadowy red room, scent of the forest entering, various time calling and the light of wood along the ceiling and over us birds calling and their circuit eyes. And in our bodies the eyes of the dead and living giving us gifts at hand, the glitter of all their eyes.

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Growing out of Muriel Rukeyser’s experience during the Spanish Civil War, the elegy evokes both hope and skepticism about dreaming in a time of defeat. The title alludes to nineteenth-century customs practiced by starving Native Americans, who found hope in ecstatic dancing, anticipating reunions with their dead—customs which, as Rukeyser noted, “have connections with expression in the overrun countries of our own time.” “The Dream-singing Elegy” was later republished as the seventh in a cycle of ten poems (Elegies, 1949). A quotation from it appears in Doctor Atomic, John Adams’ 2005 opera about the Manhattan Project, sung by the skeptical Kitty Oppenheimer.

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