Literature Study GuidesPoems Of Emily Dickinson SelectedTheres A Certain Slant Of Light Summary

Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | There's a certain Slant of light, | Summary

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Summary

This poem departs from Dickinson's typical use of ballad meter in that most of its lines are shorter than usual by one or two syllables. The poem asserts that the light of a winter afternoon is oppressive and heavy, like organ music in a cathedral. For the speaker it gives "Heavenly Hurt" but leaves "no scar," nothing but despair. The afternoon light dominates the landscape, creating shadows when it appears, and then when it departs—at sunset—it becomes unreachably distant like the "look of Death."

Analysis

The speaker describes a moment during a New England winter day, focusing on light that will shortly disappear. In many Dickinson poems, light often brings joy or physical or spiritual illumination. Here, however, it imparts oppressive, painful feelings. On winter afternoons the light doesn't last long and its presence is less illuminating than it is in other works. The light in fact brings a hint of mortality, for its disappearance is compared with death.

In the last stanza, which documents the moment before the light disappears and darkness comes, the landscape and shadows are personified just before they are extinguished in darkness. When the light leaves Dickinson compares the resulting scene to the unreachability of death on the face of a corpse: the moment of "unbecoming" that appears in so many of Dickinson's poems. The light, and its removal, seems to come from heaven, and although readers look for meaning there is none: there is no plan, no lesson to be learned. Meaning, which is "internal," is subjective, relative.

The shortness of the lines makes it feel as if the speaker is running out of words, or hasn't the energy to continue. This truncation seems to intensify the weighty sense of winter depression, as does the "Heft / Of Cathedral Tunes."

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