If Syme had been able to see himself, he would have realized that he, too, seemed to be for the first time himself and no one else. For . . . Syme was a type of the poet who seeks always to make the light in special shapes, to split it up into sun and star. The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon.
That, ironically, might be my one-word review of Andrew Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy. Darkness haunts the album, and stalks the singer like a ravening beast of prey, from beginning to end. It shows up almost immediately and is never far away. The opening song, “Come Back Soon,” commences with a narration of a flood and a bloody death. The concluding song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone,” starts by describing our sense of unheimlichkeit: “Can’t you feel it in your bones – something isn’t right here?” And there’s plenty in that vein in between:
We wake in the night in the womb of the world / We beat our fists on the door / We cannot breathe in the sea that swirls / So we groan in this great darkness . . .
Is there any way that we can change the ending of this tragedy? / Or does it have to be this way?
Two years ago I drove into a darkness . . . / And I could hear the flapping wings / Of every devil I have known / And the inside of my car was like a casket . . .
Dark nights awake on a stormy bed . . .
Every time the sun goes down we face another night here . . .
Which isn’t to say that Andrew Peterson loves darkness and enjoys wallowing in it. It is to say that he’s a poet and, as such, he likes finite light, light in special shapes. And the only time we can see light in special shapes – the only time we can see it at all – is when it is separated by darkness. The separations can be temporal, or spatial, or both: “And God set [the sun, moon, and stars] in the expanse of the heavens . . . to separate the light from the darkness . . . And there was evening, and there was morning . . .”
For the two travelers in Kierkegaard’s parable, the man traveling in the comfort of a carriage lit by lanterns may see very many things, but only the man outside in the cold darkness can see the stars. Only when Samwise Gamgee had walked deep into the blackness of Mordor did the beauty of a single star smite his heart. When God, in broad daylight, told Abraham to look to the heavens and count the stars, for “so shall your offspring be,” He made every subsequent sunset to be to Abraham a benediction – even those sunsets (like the one that immediately followed the promise) that were accompanied by “dreadful and great darkness.” This is something that AP the poet has always keenly understood, and which through his songs he has consistently shown: light made visible by darkness can be profoundly moving, in a way that a flood of light, which makes light itself invisible, is not.
And on Light for the Lost Boy Andrew turns down the ambient light, perhaps more than he ever had on any of his previous albums, so that various lights – Abraham’s stars, torches, porch lights, embers – may smite our hearts more powerfully:
And the answer’s scrawled in the silent dark in the dome of the sky in a billion stars . . .
I can see the world is charged / It’s glimmering with promises / Written in a script of stars . . .
The servants of the secret fire were gathered there / The embers of the ages like a living prayer / and all at once I saw the shadows flee . . .
At the end of the day, Andrew Peterson’s setting specially-shaped lights in darkness is more than the aesthetic device of a master songwriter. A little boy lost in the woods after nightfall may find his way home by a distant porch light, when nothing visible to his eye in daylight would lead him thither. He needs to see light, but for that reason may remain lost for an excess of ambient light. So Andrew on Light for the Lost Boy turns the ambient light down almost to black, so that the lights – “spin[ning] around another sun” – can lead him home.
In a nutshell, then:
Album: Light for the Lost Boy
Artist: Andrew Peterson
Year of release: 2012
Mood: Dark, punctuated by light
Good for: Any number of things — in this connection, priming the pump before a writing session
Availability: Available for order or download here