Eternal Flame, November 1963

They lit the gas fire at the end

Of that weekend when the power failed,

The lights went out––not fading

warning, guttering like a finished candle, but

Gone like a shot in the brightest moment, invisible

A crack in time opening to disbelief, despair. 

That’s when I lost something free.

Thirteen and balanced in traffic

Mind chewing on scraps of awful

caught through a car window, 

Eyes searching faces for the possible, 

probable, maybe the thing’s not true

If only I hear it; how do you say

what you know into a dislocated world? 

Those close, within the darkness

Driven to afford denial

Scrambled in the moment

Frantic to retain composure 

Spent their ever after searching, defining 

Some meaning, source of failure, power,

A way back to it, home.

Those lost, without the light, 

Desperate to apprehend darkness

shaken in reverberating waves, why and how and 

Who dissolved their certainties

Startled their imaginations

In the ever after twilight of doubt 

and loss of it, home.


The flame burns on, his simple plea, 

“Defend freedom in the hour of need”

mute, minute against the darkness. 

Incipient art, potent as that crack in time, 

Until we grasp its meaning

When it will light the world.

About this: After they buried him, they lit a gas flame, wrote beside it a single line, taken from his inaugural address:  " . . . and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."   

The fire he spoke of, that will light the world, is the passion of those who endeavour to defend freedom "in its hour of maximum danger". 

Reading the whole address, I hear him saying that the ends of policy and politics are not about such transient things as power, security or personal certainty, but rather should be concerned with the enduring struggle and satisfaction of defending, advancing and enhancing personal, individual liberty and freedom.

And I see the responses to his death representing a collective forgetting of that message, as one group fell into the search back to power, and a second fell into despair, and a search back to security and certainty. Both of which reactions have reduced, threatened and continue to threaten, the freedom, the liberty, he championed.

But the potential in the flame, and in its underlying import, could have greater dramatic effect then his death, if we once again were to take up its meaning. 

 © Philip Knight 2018