Sunbeams are a metaphor for cheer and pleasant warmth. A few lines in Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’ employ this metaphor to great effect. They stopped me in my tracks and demand that I see the world afresh, catch the radiance amid the gloom (real or perceived) and consider it as a glint of hope in a broken world. Vilhelm Hammershoi’s painting, ‘Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams’ conveys similar thoughts with his characteristic starkness and simplicity.

A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent
Out of the kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects

now and then —
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent
By bestowing largesse, honor,
One might say love…

–Sylvia Plath, ‘Black Rook in Rainy Weather’

Vilhelm Hammershoi (Danish, 1864-1916), ‘Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunbeams’ 1900. Oil on canvas, 70 x 59 cm. Ordrupgaard Museum.

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