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In the poem "Speak Now for Peace" by Vachel Lindsay, we hear an appeal to the "Lady of Light". Is this simply a reference to Jane Addams, a peace activist in the early 20th century? Or was it speaking to the Statue of Liberty perhaps? The statue was barely a generation old in 1915 and France played prominently in the war to come. Or, is it a reference to some other person?

To Jane Addams at the Hague

(Two poems, written on the sinking of the Lusitania, appearing in the Chicago Herald, May 11, 1915)

I. Speak Now for Peace

Lady of Light, and our best woman, and queen,
Stand now for peace (though anger breaks your heart),
Though naught but smoke and flame and drowning is seen.

Lady of Light, speak, though you speak alone,
Though your voice may seem as a dove's in this howling flood,
It is heard tonight by every senate and throne.

Though the widening battle of millions and millions of men
Threatens tonight to sweep the whole of the earth,
Back of the smoke is the promise of kindness again.

From Collected Works (1925), pp. 380–381.

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  • Welcome to Literature! I took the liberty of replacing the photos with the text of the poem, as this is more accessible for people using screen readers, and linked to the poet's Collected Works on the Internet Archive, from whence I copied the text. See here for more advice about asking good questions about the meaning of poetry. Jul 14 at 18:23
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    Thanks! I appreciate the introduction
    – nuggethead
    Jul 14 at 22:58

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The “Lady of Light” is the addressee of the poem, and the title says that the poem is addressed “To Jane Addams”, hence the Lady is Addams. She was at the Hague to attend the International Congress of Women in April 1915, where she gave an address on ‘Women and War’.

Fortunately for the dignity of a worthy cause the figure who was Woman-as-Peace-Incarnate-in-America was no peevish radical or veiled seeress but solidly serene Jane Addams, whom Vachel Lindsay apostrophized early in 1915 as “Our† Lady of Light, and our best woman and Queen”

Joseph Chamberlain Furnas (1974). Great Times: an Informal Social History of the United States, 1914–1929, p. 215. New York: Putnam.

† Sic: presumably by association with the title of Mary discussed below.

“Our Lady of Light” is one of the titles of Mary (mother of Jesus), under which she is venerated at the Shrine of Our Lady of Light (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz) near Lisbon in Portugal.

So I think that Lindsay is making an image of Addams as Mary. He calls her “queen”, and asks her to “stand for peace”, suggesting another of Mary’s titles, “Queen of Peace”. In this aspect she is often depicted with a dove, also mentioned by Lindsay (line 5). Furnas’s mistake in the extract quoted above suggests that he interpreted the poem in this way.

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