There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
This beautiful line comes from Edith Wharton’s long poem “Vesalius in Zante (1564).” The speaker of the poem is Inquisition-era anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), who left Spain to travel to the East in his fifties, when he could no longer bear to live and work in a society that forbade his scientific research. On his way home from Jerusalem, Vesalius was shipwrecked on the Greek island of Zante, where he fell ill and died, never to return home. In the poet’s imagining, the censored scientist finds consolation at the end of his life in the faith that others will carry on the work he was prevented from: “What one man failed to speak, another finds / Another word for,” Wharton writes. In other words, carrying on the “light” of another — be it ideas, joy, love, or inspiration — can be just as valuable as creating it yourself.